When the Queen came to visit my boarding school in the 1960s, I was banished to the sanatorium, says AN Wilson in The Sunday Telegraph. She was there to open some new gates, but before her arrival I had written an article for the school newspaper urging her “to open public schools to all” instead. The piece was picked up by several newspapers. One headline thundered: “Public School Red insults the Queen”. So, “frightened that Her Majesty would somehow be seen anywhere near the lefty teenage AN”, the teachers locked me up until she’d been driven back to London.
These days, I still think public schools are “morally dubious”, and I have mixed views about royalty. But “if you want a defence of monarchism, just look at Queen Elizabeth II”. This year, the 96-year-old monarch missed the state opening of parliament for only the third time in her 70-year reign (the other two occasions she was heavily pregnant). After Queen Victoria was widowed aged 42, she only bothered going to the state opening once – and that was at the insistence of her favourite prime minister, Disraeli. Of course, if our Queen had a favourite PM, we’d never know it. Some newspapers think she liked Harold Wilson, others say John Major – but ultimately it’s a mystery. That’s the thing about the Queen: for all her fame, she’s remained a rather unknowable, ego-less figure. That’s what makes her a success. “A character in an Iris Murdoch novel remarks that the chief requirement of the good life is to live without any image of oneself, and the Queen seems to have done just that.”