Thursday, 10 September 2015

Queen Elizabeth II Is Longest-Reigning Monarch

Queen makes only a passing reference to her historic achievement as she thanks well-wishers for their kind words during an official engagement in Scotland

She accepted it was a “special day” as she became our longest-reigning monarch, but the Queen was, as ever, the very embodiment of understatement.

Appearing rather bashful about the attention being lavished on her as she made history, Her Majesty made only a passing reference to her entry in the record books, insisting: “It is not one to which I have ever aspired.”

While everyone around her was, quite rightly, paying homage to her remarkable achievement, the Queen made it clear that, as far as she was concerned, all she had done was to stay alive and healthy.

“Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones,” she said. “My own is no exception. But I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages of great kindness.”

Queen Victoria, the woman whose record she surpassed, was not mentioned in the Queen’s brief speech at Tweedbank railway station in the Borders, where Her Majesty was more preoccupied with the business at hand, namely opening the longest stretch of new railway to be built for more than a century.
Yet beautifully subtle tributes to her great-great grandmother were woven by her into the day.

On her blue Karl Ludwig coat the Queen, 89, wore a diamond-studded bow brooch originally owned by Victoria and passed down to her by Queen Mary, one of a set of three ordered by Victoria from the royal jeweller Garrard in 1858.

The decision to travel on the new line by steam, in a carriage pulled by the locomotive Union of South Africa, evoked the coal-powered Victorian era, and her words of thanks could almost have been taken from Victoria’s own diary.

In 1896, when Victoria outlasted the previous longest reign, that of her grandfather George III, she wrote in her diary of the congratulatory telegrams sent “from every part of the Kingdom…all most loyally expressed”.

The Queen’s description of her record being one she would rather not have had was, of course, a reference to the early death of her father, George VI, the untimely event that made her long reign possible.

But if, as her aides had suggested, the day was tinged with melancholy, the Queen certainly did not show it. Happy and glorious, her smile was ever-present, telling of her clear delight in the people she met, from Scotland’s First Minister to the children who gave her flowers.

Walter Bell, 88, a retired train driver and fireman who spent 50 years on the railways, sat with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in their Pullman carriage for part of their train journey along the length of the 31-mile Scottish Borders Railway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.

The Queen chats to Nicola Sturgeon during her journey on the new Scottish Borders Railway  Photo: PA
“She said to me ‘we've both got a special day’,” he said later. “It was out of this world to meet her, it's a great honour, it's very special.”

Nicola Sturgeon, who as Scotland’s First Minister was lucky enough to host the Queen during the day, had told her: “We are privileged Ma'am that you have chosen to mark today's milestone here. All of us are delighted to be able to share some of this special day with you.
"For those watching from around the world let me say, on their behalf Ma'am, a simple but heartfelt thank you.”

The Queen replied: "Prince Philip and I are very grateful for the warmth of your welcome on this occasion.
"Many, including you First Minister, have also kindly noted another significance attaching to today, although it is not one to which I have ever aspired.”

Then, after that briefest of references to her history-making, the Queen was, typically, keen to get back to the job she was there for, saying: “Now to the business in hand. It is my very happy duty to declare the Borders Railway open.”

She could not, however, prevent those in the 1,000-strong crowd from loudly giving her three cheers.
Speaking later Ms Sturgeon said: “I think it's an historic occasion, I think the Queen is clearly, as we saw there, very modest herself about it.
“But she has given many, many long years of dedicated public service and the attendance here today was a sign that people want to show their gratitude to her for that.

“She was in tremendous form, I think she enjoyed the train journey, the most special bit of a very special journey was when the train went through Galashiels station and slowed down and she was able to see some people who had gathered there outside the window.”

Although the Queen is staying at Balmoral, where she is spending her annual summer holiday, there was no logistical reason to prevent her choosing to mark the day with an engagement in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

After 63 years on the throne, however, she is used to playing the long game, and knows that every act of solidarity with the Scots helps to keep the break-up of the Union that little bit more distant.

Asked if an independent Scotland would keep the monarchy Miss Sturgeon said: “My view and this was a view expressed during the referendum campaign last year is that, yes, the Queen, who is Queen of Scots, would remain head of state in an independent Scotland.”

Scotland was not the only focus of celebration: on the Thames, the royal rowbarge Gloriana, built for the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in 2012, led a flotilla of nine boats from Tower Bridge, which raised its bascules in salute, to the Houses of Parliament, with a four-gun salute from HMS Belfast along the way.

Westminster Abbey rang a peal of bells for 50 minutes, churches rang their own bells in celebration and in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, David Hinde, the “world’s loudest town crier” proclaimed the happy event to a small and perhaps slightly bemused crowd.

Once her duties were done, the Queen boarded a helicopter back to Balmoral, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and Princess Charlotte were waiting after arriving as house guests.

The Queen did not officially enter the record books until 5.30pm, the time at which Palace aides had unofficially calculated that she would have been on the throne for longer than Queen Victoria. It is unlikely she was watching the clock.

Would the Cambridges join her for a special celebratory meal? Not according to Buckingham Palace. In keeping with the Queen’s wishes, dinner was to be an entirely routine affair.

We can safely assume that when the Queen wakes up on Thursday morning, it will be with a sense of relief that the “fuss”, as she calls it, is finally over.

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