To be in London at the moment is extraordinary. To hear ‘the Queen is dead’ was an emotional shock, as she had only two days previously looked like the sweetest granny ever, meeting the UK’s new prime minister. What a woman. She worked right up to the end as she said she would, ‘whether it be short or long’.
It was a rather slow dawning that the Queen had died. In the morning I headed into the city to sense the occasion. Getting out of the Tube at Green Park I was suddenly immersed in this historic event.
I walked in the rain through Green Park towards Buckingham Palace among others clutching umbrellas and flowers; it was pouring with rain – it was a very British mourning! Umbrellas touched like a forest over the crowd and it was a very calm, pervasive, gentle atmosphere as the police helped move us on, but gently. Volunteers helped out people with dogs on leads and children in pushchairs, with many nationalities and world voices there – yet all were one collective in this unsure, somehow very British moment – they laid flowers and left condolence messages; there were Paddington Bears, photo collages, and letters among the blooms. It had only happened a few hours before but how instantly the crowd had appeared and flowers lined the outside of the railings of Buckingham Palace. There was such an air of peace and civility; I know many want a republic and consider the monarchy a drain on the public purse, but not today. It was the best of democratic life, everyone sharing peacefully and kindly in this historic moment.
I grew up close to London and the Royal Family were just an intrinsic part of my life. My father took me up to London on the day before the coronation and now, seventy years on, here I am at its close. I was four when he took me up to see the decorations the day before the actual event. We watched the coronation on television with other neighbours at a house in our road – it was one of the few to have a television.
Two years later, Dad took me up again; this time we stood in the mall for the Trooping of the Colour. The Queen, so young, rode by on her horse leading the huge parade that came down the Mall. I was amazed as I looked up and she passed by so close. I remember thinking she was beautiful but she had on so much makeup – in the fifties women used an awful lot of powder!
The personal side of this momentous time has been, much to my surprise, warm messages from friends in Australia who are delighted that I am here at this historic time, some who don’t even agree with a monarchy but know I am a royalist. One reminded me that once, in another incarnation, I used be the Queen, performing a sort of posh standup in many performances with the Non Specific Players during the free-spirited eighties of Mullumbimby (magically remembered in the documentaries by Sharon Shostak).
That was also the time of birth of The Echo, during which Nicholas Shand, a bit of a royal himself, employed me, not as the Queen! But with the Non Specific Players I was Her Majesty at one of the early Echo Awards.
So, this is a special time and one that makes me feel nostalgic and fortunate. I am looking forward to Charles III: he mentions love a lot and is of my generation.