THE British state leaves nothing to fate when the monarch is on manoeuvres. And so, in July 2001, after it was announced that the Queen and Prince Philip were officially to open The Herald’s old offices in Cowcaddens we were told we must first expect a visit from the secret service for “security purposes”.

My role on the paper back then was deputy editor and, as the editor had chosen that week to be on holiday, the task of guiding Elizabeth on a mini-tour of our editorial floor fell to me.

There was a degree of speculation among some of my colleagues about what the UK spooks might make of the rather large framed image of the Celtic striker Henrik Larsson which hung prominently on the wall of my office. I replied that the Swedish royal family were probably cousins of the British one and that Henrik would have no problem whatsoever with it.

Those of us who had been chosen to meet the Queen in person were briefed further on the protocol we must observe. One detail of this Bettyquette (if you will) has remained with me ever since. It was a small ritual that had evolved over centuries of the British establishment’s bequeathed expertise in the eloquence of silence.

Thus, we were told that in our personal interactions with her we must be vigilant for a little coded signal to indicate that the conversation had come to an end. When Her Majesty took a small step backwards it meant our time with her was up. It’s designed to ensure that conversations don’t wander into that red zone where they become stilted and cumbrous. And it spares the Queen the requirement to fish around awkwardly for an appropriate spoken denouement.

You can’t really have Her Britannic Majesty saying something like: “Well, all the very best then and it was a pleasure to meet you. Look after yourself now.” Or, “Would you look at the time? I need to be away from here soon.”

The Queen was everything you’d hoped she’d be in moments such as these: warm, gracious, solicitous … and there was a barely discernible twinkle in her voice. This was evident in an exchange with Tom Shields, perhaps The Herald’s finest-ever diarist and a man who had made a career from droll lese-majeste.

At the point when the Queen had signalled delicately that the conversation was over, Tom said: “Eh, Your Majesty, can I say something else?” (Aw naw, Tom; not now)

“Of course, Mr Shields,” (was there a bat-squeak of iciness there?)

“It’s about that tin of boiled sweeties you gave us all in 1953 for your coronation. This is the first chance I’ve had to thank you.” (All Scottish school-children had received one.)

“You’re most welcome, Mr Shields and I’m glad your memory doesn’t appear to have diminished with age.” (She’s worth the watching, this one.)


IT’S possible, I think, to appreciate the qualities of this woman and even to grieve for her death. Elizabeth didn’t choose this life and it’s not unreasonable to speculate that at several points during her 70 years as monarch she felt imprisoned by it.

She seems to have been possessed of high intelligence and therefore must, at times, have been starkly aware of the historic requirements of her role which oblige her to perform functions laid down many generations before. And few of which she would ever have the power to alter. She was bred for this.

Her devotion to what she regarded as her duty has featured in most of the encomiums of the last 48 hours. But she must surely have known too that something of this was to be a deflector shield for those times when the malfeasances of governments threatened to sew disharmony in the realm.

In return for helping maintain order and an ever-diminishing sense of tradition and uniqueness across the kingdom all British governments have been happy to grant her and her family their property portfolios; their art collections and their servants. It’s a small price to pay.

A suite of euphemisms has been deployed by left-wing actors to avoid having to express actual sympathy at the death of the Queen. The most common are those that include: “… it’s a tragedy for her family”. A host of these people have lately appeared – usually middle-class – to froth at the elaborate grieving procedures now being eased into place.

Something of this was also apparent after Brexit as boutique, faux-Marxist savants disparaged those thick northerners for voting Leave. It suggested that entire working-class communities had no intelligence-based agency in this; that they were not possessed of sufficient wit to make a fully-informed decision. The people casting these aspersions couldn’t point out Burnley or Blackburn on a map.

It would be arrogant and foolish to despise working-class families’ affection for Elizabeth. They face more social challenges each day than Quentin Man-Bun will face in a lifetime. They simply feel that Elizabeth represents permanence and fidelity as well as stoicism in the face of adversity. She provides a space where generations of families can meet well and share memories. These places are sacrosanct.

Yet, Britain is a different country to the one which mourned the death of George VI in 1952; much less deferential; much more confident about challenging power, or at least criticising the abuse of it.

The country has now begun two weeks of official mourning and it’s inevitable and healthy that during it we question the purpose of the monarchy. There should be space here to salute the personal attributes of Elizabeth while scrutinising the character of the surviving Windsors. It doesn’t make you disrespectful or callous to question how they normalise unearned privilege; the imperative of class and the writ of mediocrity.

Thousands of vulnerable people will die needlessly this winter and now may be a good time to ask if we can continue morally to justify the gilded lifestyles of this family.