It is hard for me to imagine Britain without Queen Elizabeth II. For more than ¾ of my life she was our Queen, with her calm elegance, her ready smile, the way she waved to people from car or coach that was uniquely hers. She maintained her position right to the end, and became the longest reigning monarch of Britain. Throughout her long, arduous and devoted years of service she was respected and loved. She actually met and worked with 15 British Prime Ministers over the decades. And she lived through so much change during her years as Monarch. Throughout all the violence, rioting, wars, climate change and the rest, she was always there, a reassuring presence to keep up the morale of her people. She has influenced the lives of so many around the world.
I was 18 when I heard on the wireless that King George the VI had died. Princess Elizabeth, as she was known at the time, was in Kenya with her husband Prince Philip enjoying a day off watching elephants. She was only 26 when she was crowned Queen.
I met her on four occasions: Firstly, when I was presented at Buckingham Palace. In 1979 during the Queen’s state visit to Tanzania, I was able to talk to her about my work with chimpanzees. The third time I met Her Majesty was when she honored me with a CBE at Buckingham Palace (it was the heir to the throne, now King Charles III who hung the DBE around my neck). I met and shook hands with her for the last time when I was invited to give a brief address at the Commonwealth Service in Westminster Abbey.
Her Majesty was a truly remarkable human being and the proof of the respect in which she was held is well illustrated by the millions of tributes pouring in from all around the world, from presidents and prime ministers, business leaders and heads of NGOs, to countless members of the general public.
The queen loved being at Balmoral, in the country. She loved animals, and it was really moving to see so many of her horses in the recent celebrations of her Platinum Jubilee at Windsor. She also loved dogs. She was given her first corgi in 1933 and during the following 89 years is thought to have owned around 30. Recently she announced she would acquire no more, because she didn’t want to leave any of her canine friends to mourn her death. However, she is survived by three corgis, one dorgi (a cross between a corgi and a dachshund!) and a springer spaniel. They will miss her but of course they will be well loved and cared for. She would be so pleased to know that Corgi owners plan a “Corgi Parade” through one of London’s parks as a tribute to this remarkable woman.
We send our condolences to all members of her family, especially to her grandchildren and son, King Charles III who now picks up the sceptre and the crown. He has giant shoes to fill and needs all our support. Let me end with the traditional “Long live the King”