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Britain’s secret weapon

The Queen fulfilled her diplomatic role in a way “no British sovereign had done before”, says Valentine Low in The Times. Referred to by Foreign Office mandarins as “our secret weapon”, she had a “quiet magnetism” which cast a spell over everyone from Donald Trump to Angela Merkel. One of her warmest relationships was with Nelson Mandela. The South African president called her Elizabeth; she called him Nelson. On his state visit to Britain in 1996, he asked to attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall instead of a banquet. During the rousing finale he got up to boogie and, in a most “un-Queen-like” moment, she did too. “Good heavens,” said one establishment figure. “The Queen is dancing!”

Of course, she had to put up with some fairly unsavoury guests, too. Walking her dogs in the gardens at Buckingham Palace during a visit by Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1978, she “hid behind a bush” rather than get stuck chatting with the dictator and his wife. She was furious with President Mobutu of Zaire, who visited in 1973. His wife smuggled a small dog through customs and ordered it a steak from the palace kitchens. The deputy master of the household was told: “Get that dog out of my house!” It was duly consigned to the kennels at Heathrow.

Abroad, the Queen was welcomed with “something approaching ecstasy”, especially in countries that had done away with their own monarchies. During a state visit to France, she mentioned to her hosts in the Louvre that she had never seen the Mona Lisa. “Within minutes, two attendants staggered in with the picture, which they exhibited on bended knees.” One of the warmest tributes to the Queen was from President Macron, who said she “stood with the giants of the twentieth century” and “embodied a people, a territory, and a shared will… She held a special status in France and a special place in the hearts of the French people.”