“I don’t know how you are all feeling today. I’m sure there are a variety of emotions. I know some members of our community were already feeling tearful yesterday afternoon when news started to emerge that the Queen was gravely ill – and confirmation of her death yesterday evening brought goosebumps, tears, and genuine sadness.
Whatever your views on the monarchy, today is a very sad day.
It is a momentous day.
Because there isn’t a single person in this room who knows what it is like to live without the Queen. She has been the monarch for the entirety of all our lives. She was 96 years of age when she died, and she had served 70 years on the throne – the longest-reigning monarch in British history. But, this morning, we have woken up at the dawn of a new era: the reign of King Charles III has begun. Even saying those words feels odd; it feels like a seismic change. Our worldview is altered.
The Queen, who has always been there, is gone.
Think about all those kings and queens in your history books: the dates you will have committed to memory, the list of monarchs spanning the centuries. As of yesterday – the 8th of September 2022 – the name Elizabeth II will appear on that list with both a birth date and a death date, closing a chapter in history. The finality of that seems almost surreal.
But let’s not forget that those dates – 1926 to 2022 – are not just about a place in history. They are the bookends to a remarkable life: the life of an extraordinary human being who, in addition to being our monarch, was also a mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother – the matriarch of a family who will now be feeling the loss deeply. Our thoughts are with them all.
On Monday we will take some time to celebrate the life of Queen Elizabeth II, and we will mark some of the milestones in her long and eventful reign, but this morning I wanted to share with you a story. Six years ago, when I was Deputy Head at a school in Hertfordshire, I had the opportunity to meet the Queen. The school was celebrating its 475th anniversary and, as a patron of the school, Her Majesty, had been invited. It was a big deal.
When the visit was announced, I was intrigued, but I must admit that I was not as excited as some. I have never been someone who has followed the lives of the royals or taken a particular interest or stance. However, what I want to say to you this morning is that, regardless of your political or ideological views on the monarchy, the Queen – as a human being, as a leader, as a woman – was someone special. I spoke to her briefly on that day in 2016 and, in just a few sentences, she revealed her sharp wit, her sense of humour, and her genuine interest in the people she served – all the things we always hear about her – but what I remember most was what I can only describe as her “aura”. It was palpable. She glowed, and I mean that quite literally. Through warmth and goodness, she seemed to be emitting light. She was radiant, in the true sense of the word.
That was the extraordinary side, the almost ‘otherworldly’ aspect, of the person I met. But I also witnessed another side on that day. As I was making my way to meet Her Majesty, I walked past the headmaster’s house, in which we had set aside a room for her to rest. As I passed by, I glanced through the window and saw Queen Elizabeth II, alone on a sofa. I then saw her reach into her handbag, take out a tube of lipstick, and reapply her lippy. It was a small moment, but that vignette stayed with me – a reminder of her humanity. She was a 90-year-old woman, having a busy day, gearing herself up for another round of meeting and greeting at the end of a long, long life of service.
Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-reigning monarch in British history; she was an inspiration to the world and an extraordinary example to us all. The values she lived by, like kindness, compassion, and serving others, are values to which we should all aspire. It was Elizabeth II’s ability to stay true to her values; it was her utter conviction; and it was her determination to perform her duty, no matter how difficult and challenging it became, that gave her that radiance I mentioned earlier. The Queen’s light – her true source of power – came from her goodness, not from her title or status. Of that, I am convinced.
We are going to observe a minute’s silence, at the end of which I am going to play you a clip from The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations – a clip which, I think, typifies what was so special about the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Further details will be issued about how we are going to observe this period of national mourning, and we will keep everyone updated on any changes to school plans. In the meantime, in the words of Paddington Bear,
“Thank you, Ma’am, for everything”.