Tips on Survival From the Queen Who Excelled at It

Survival Tips

Normally, this section of Point of Return closes the newsletter. Not today. If there was ever a great survivor, it was Elizabeth II, who has passed away after seven decades as Queen of England. The economy and markets transformed beyond recognition during her reign, and so did the role her nation played in the world. Instinctively, much of the English-speaking world is voluntarily coming to a halt. For the overwhelming majority of Britons who have known only her reign, there is a sense of unreality.

Survival wasn’t a given. The British love tradition, but a hereditary monarchy is quite an anachronism. And on at least two occasions during the last 70 years, it looked as though the monarchy was endangered: in 1992, when the public revolted at the idea that the repairs Windsor Castle needed after a fire should be paid by the public purse, and the royal family soon had to consent to pay tax for the first time; and again in 1997, when grief at the death of Princess Diana and the Queen’s long delay before addressing the people about it led to fierce criticism.

Yet somehow she recovered, as did the institution. How did the Queen survive, and how did she enable the monarchy to survive?

Perhaps there are two key intuitions. The first was to move with the times and adapt to the changing culture around her. Ten years ago, this reached its peak when the Queen agreed to take part in a skit for the opening of the London Olympics. James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, arrived at Buckingham Palace to escort her to the stadium, which they entered on parachute from a helicopter. (Well, stunt doubles did it for them.) This was symbolic of the new Britain that those Olympics were meant to showcase to the world — an open and inclusive society, at peace with the loss of its global hegemonic status, and happy to rejoice in its outsized contribution to global culture. Where Britain was once about its navy and control of far-flung colonies, the national identity came to focus on the likes of Shakespeare, the Beatles, and James Bond. By taking part, the Queen showed that she had a sense of humor, and gave some validation for a new notion of a self-confident Britain happy in its own skin and prepared to laugh at itself.