She reigns no longer.
Britain’s longest-serving monarch, 96 years of age and 70 years Regina, has drawn her last.
Hers was an extraordinary life.
And a life of many guises: a strapping teenage mechanic during the war, a young navy wife in Malta, a bereaved daughter on a game reserve in Kenya, a coronated icon of post-war Britain, a defender of faith, a purportedly-distant young mother, a spouse of a Greek change-maker, a stalwart of tradition in the face of a sister’s romantic desires, a stateswoman, a matchmaker for her heir apparent, a human being lamenting an annus horribilis, a matriarch during familial strife, a mother-in-law managing and mourning a star-crossed life-and-death in Paris, a wry-humoured Bonded Majesty, a racehorse afficionado, a global stateswoman, a healer of old wounds in Ireland, an ageing mother of a dodgy middle-son, a head-of-family at sixes and sevens with a dolt-ish grandson, a steadying hand for her nation with its premier in Covid ICU, a brief confidante for her 15th Prime Minister, a Queen of Great Britain and 14 other sovereign countries, and a person loved by some, admired by many, and respected by most.
She was a woman of substance; and she is gone.
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
On February 3rd 1981, Prince Charles proposed marriage to Lady Diana Spencer.
‘Yes, please!’, she giggled.
As if to clarify his position, he explained the consequences of her spontaneous response.
‘You do realise that one day…’ he said, solemnly, ‘One day you will be Queen’.
He was speaking of an event that would, as it transpires, occur more than 41 years later. Today.
There were many things the 19-year-old Diana could not have realised, that February morning in Windsor.
She could not have known that Charles’ love was faltering due to another; that the married couple would never agree on ‘whatever love means’; that her fairytale extravaganza would dissolve amid infidelity, bulimia and cover-up; that she herself would draw her last breath somewhere between the Pont de l’Alma and Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, in 1997; that the Prince’s true love would emerge from veils of discretion and marry Charles in 2005; and that Camilla, not Diana, would one day become Queen.
All of the wrangling. All of the drama. It was always about today.
Diana, Princess of Wales, was a canny operator, a gifted communicator, and a fine, if incautious, chess player.
In her Panorama interview with Bashir in 1995, she returned to the theme of ‘one day’ in the distant future.
Sick of being a plaything of the media, demented by the trickery of her arranged marriage, known to everyone but herself, she went for the jugular.
‘Do you think he would wish to be King?’, Bashir enquired, referring to her husband, in a highly choreographed exchange.
It was the interview’s most consequential passage.
Diana paused, paused some more, then questioned if Charles would be equal to the ‘top job’, because being King would bring with it ‘enormous limitations’.
She spoke with authority, as if she were sharing an admission; pillow-talk from their marital quarters.
Always a provocateur, the Princess was making a pitch for William to jump a generation, and grab the crown. Her strategy was to sow doubt as to whether the Prince was really that bothered.
Charles III would wait until his 74th year to make his intentions clear.
This afternoon marked, curiously, and according to British law, ‘the demise of the crown’ – that moment when the transfer of the ‘top job’ spontaneously passes between monarch and heir. A single breath separates their two reigns.
That single breath, on this one day, has been the focus of Charles’ life and Diana’s putative revenge.
In the end, the transfer has happened fully as anticipated, shepherded by a Matriarch who could always rise above the clatter and the drama.
Because she was the finest chess player of all.
May she rest in peace.