In the week before Remembrance Sunday, Queen Elizabeth II trekked to the scenic London borough of Richmond Upon Thames to tour the Poppy Factory. She is patron of the Royal British Legion and Prince Harry, her gunship-flying grandson, is among the British and Commonwealth troops in peril in Afghanistan. She was greeted by local dignitaries, toured the production area, had a go at assembling a poppy, and met with staff and clients from the factory-funded employment program for wounded veterans. “The Poppy Factory hasn’t had a visit from the Queen for 20 years,” the facility’s chief executive would later remark. Not that you’d think anyone’s counting—but they are.
By any measure 2012 has been exceptional for the 86-year-old monarch. It marked her 60th year on the throne. She had a historic rapprochement with an ex-Provisional Irish Republican Army commander, whose group blew up her cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten 33 years ago. She presided over the opening ceremonies of London’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, including a star turn with Daniel Craig’s James Bond. On Nov. 20, Elizabeth and 91-year-old Prince Philip observed their 65th wedding anniversary.
Perhaps most exceptional of all, looking back on a Court Circular stuffed with a year’s worth of her activities, is that she’s still in the harness well into her ninth decade: plowing through banquet, borough and backwater—a relentless force shod in sensible shoes. Among the year’s highlights:
DIAMOND JUBILEE: BALCONY SCENE
The jubilee was as much about showing where the monarchy is going as where’s it’s been. So in one of the first obvious concessions to age, the Queen and Philip limited their travels to Britain, leaving the younger royals to fan out across the Commonwealth. “We’re going to see a lot more of that in the coming years, particularly with the health difficulties the duke of Edinburgh had in recent months,” says Carolyn Harris, a lecturer at the University of Toronto and an expert in royal history. Son and heir Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, toured Canada. Prince Harry wowed them in the Caribbean and Brazil. William and Kate’s jubilee tour took them to Asia and the South Pacific.
At the heart of the celebrations was the four-day jubilee weekend in June, which included the balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace. The normally unflappable Queen was momentarily flummoxed as she emerged to a delirious crowd. “Oh my goodness! How extraordinary,” she said. “Those cheers are for you,” said William.
Aides would later say the unspoken message on the balcony was about the future. Rather than the usual gaggle of royals she’d pared it to just five others: Charles and Camilla, William, Kate and Harry. (Philip was ill in hospital.) Here was the line of succession, the monarchy’s future.
The royals have long memories. King George V had no dealings with the Soviet ambassador because he represented a nation that had deposed and executed his cousin, Czar Nicholas II, and his family, notes Harris. Not so Elizabeth. In June, the Queen, once considered a prime IRA target, had a private meeting in Belfast with Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, a one-time terror commander whose group was responsible for the Mountbatten bombing. He told her the meeting was a signal that peace-building requires leadership. “The Queen has clearly placed her role as head of state and the interests of broader reconciliation over what must be strong personal feelings,” says Harris.
‘GOOD EVENING, MR. BOND’
Her Olympic opening video-helicopter jump with Daniel Craig’s James Bond was described as the Queen’s first acting role, though that hardly does credit to the innumerable times she’s had to feign interest at ribbon cuttings and the like. Regardless, it was a rare public view of what her intimates say is a wicked sense of humour. “She was more than happy to be there, more than happy to be involved, was loving every minute of it,” Craig told Maclean’s film critic Brian D. Johnson.
As for her ability to keep a secret, that was never in doubt. Charles and grandsons William and Harry were floored when the video preceded her arrival at the ceremony. Charles burst into laughter. William and Harry were said to be beside themselves. As she started her descent, the two of them shouted, “Go, Granny!”
THE FAMILY JEWELS
While visiting Singapore this fall, a 13-year-old asked William what superpower he would like to have. “That’s a hard question,” he replied. “I think invisibility.” One can hardly blame him. Between his brother and wife, there was rather too much visibility this year.
It began in August with Harry losing a game of strip pool in Las Vegas, with plenty of photo evidence to go around. We’ll never know what his grandmother told him after that, but if he was truly in the corgi house she could, as commander-in-chief of Britain’s armed forces, have forbade him from returning to Afghanistan in a combat role as an attack helicopter pilot. That she allowed him, third in line to the throne, to take on the high-risk killing role gives Harry a shot at redemption.
A month later, a French magazine was the first of several to run grainy photos of Kate sunbathing topless during a holiday with William at a not-secluded-enough chateau in Provence. The clandestine photos generated more sympathy than scandal for the popular couple, however. With the issue still on the boil, the couple’s jubilee tour took them to the Solomon Islands where, with delicious irony, they were greeted by topless tribeswomen.
Back from the Poppy Factory tour, the Queen had an audience with deputy prime minister Nicholas Clegg, followed by a meeting of her Privy Council, an advisory body of senior members of House of Commons and House of Lords. The next morning, Philip planted a Cross of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey, ramrod straight but looking his age; fading as old soldiers do. The Queen had an audience with a group of new ambassadors, and shook their hands upon their appointment. That has been her lot for more than 60 years—the only monarch the majority of Britons have ever known. No back-to-work project for her, because she’s never stopped. She reigns in the service of her subjects, ruled by an endless datebook of future events, and an unshakable sense of duty.
Here are more Newsmakers from 2012: