Even when you know a death is coming, it is still a shock. Along with the rest of the country, and with many around the world, I was very sad to hear the news last night that the Queen had died at Balmoral. In a way, it was good to know she died somewhere she felt at home, surrounded by her family. May we all be so lucky.
Seventy years on the throne is quite something. She was one year younger than my grandad, so reading back through his memoirs is a reminder of how much the world has changed over her reign. Her dedicated life of service was an inspiration to many and made her a powerful role model. You may not be a supporter of the monarchy, but you can’t deny that.
My grandad met her once, when they were both young children. During his early life, my grandad’s parents ran a farm at Dinnet, not far from Ballater. The landowner and local member of parliament was friendly with the royal family who would often visit Dinnet House when they were in residence at Balmoral. On one occasion, when a visit coincided with the strawberry crop, the young princesses came with a driver to the farm to collect some fresh cream from the the dairy. While waiting for the cream, the princesses and their governess got out of the car to look at the young calves in the next field and my grandad and his sister joined them. In his memoirs, my grandad notes that “they were young children just like we were, but very much tidier in appearance, and rather better spoken“.
I can understand the Queen’s love for Balmoral and the area. If you’ve never been, it really is worth a visit. Lochnagar is an imposing mountain and the scenery in the area is just gorgeous. Last time I was there the gardens were coming to life in early spring, and we saw a red squirrel scrambling nervously up a tree near the gates. The river Dee runs through the grounds of the estate and the colours of the granite rocks in the water inspired the design of the Balmoral tartan. (The whiskey from the local distillery isn’t bad, either.)
Many decades later, I met the Queen too. The merger of UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester necessitated a new royal charter, which was presented by the Queen at the University on October 22nd 2004.
I didn’t get to hear the speeches as I had been asked to be one of two representatives from the faculty to meet the Queen after the ceremony and talk to her about the research going on at the University. We were briefed before hand and were very nervous, but she was (as many people have noted) extremely good at putting people at ease. I’m sure you would get good at that too, with such a full diary of public engagements spanning decades.
Grandad kept a photo of the occasion on a shelf for years. He also noted in his memoirs (and told me on several occasions) that he was “disappointed that Megan did not tell the Queen (as I told her to) that she was looking forward to becoming her Astronomer Royal“. Sorry grandad, I don’t think that was ever even remotely likely!
Along with many, many people, I feel there is something missing today. The Queen has been there my entire life; we all knew she wouldn’t last forever, but it is still strange to think she has gone. Having lost two members of my own family this year, my thoughts are with the royal family today.
Rest in peace, Your Majesty, thank you for everything.