On her birthday in 1947, nearly five years before she would become Queen, a 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth delivered one of her most memorable, assured and prescient speeches.
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” she told the world from Cape Town during a royal tour of South Africa with her parents and younger sister. “But I shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone, unless you join in it with me.” As it turns out, her life—and her service—have been very long indeed. And the public has most certainly joined her the entire way.
Jubilee Week was witness to one of the most impressive, far-reaching and heartfelt celebrations for a monarch in human history. The Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, Canada and 14 other realms, has been the cause of revelry and good cheer around the world.
In Britain the event was marked by a massive 1,000-boat flotilla down the Thames River witnessed by more than one million rain-soaked, but otherwise joyous, spectators. Almost 10,000 roads were closed across the country for street parties and picnics. The next day the Queen attended a star-studded pop concert at Buckingham Palace featuring luminaries ranging from Elton John and Paul McCartney to Kylie Minogue. The choicest seats for this event were distributed to the public via national lottery. Then 4,000 beacons were lit in Commonwealth countries around the globe.
What’s significant about the Diamond Jubilee, besides the Queen’s selfless devotion to her duties over 60 years on the throne—a staggering achievement in itself—is the sense of it being a shared experience. This has not been a private, closed-door event, but rather a prolonged period of widespread public participation—a chance for all the Queen’s subjects in every country in which she is sovereign to share in the excitement and reflect on their own personal connection to the monarch.
At Maclean’s we’ve been doing some reflecting and recollecting of our own. Our current issue features a special 25-page section capturing all the colour and pageantry of the Diamond Jubilee in Britain and elsewhere. We’ve also compiled two unique ebooks (available through iBooks and Kindle, and also available through the Maclean’s iPad app) that offer a more sweeping, historical look at the glorious reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
From the Pages of Maclean’s: The Queen features almost 70 years of reporting from a wide variety of Maclean’s writers including Pierre Berton, June Callwood, Michael Enright and Allan Fotheringham, not to mention world-famous photographer Yousuf Karsh. One of the fascinating things about this collection is the way in which it reveals how the stories of Elizabeth and Canada have intertwined.
Dispatches from the 1940s and 1950s, when both Canada and Elizabeth first began to feel their place in the world, reveal a shared sense of excitement and promise. By the 1960s, however, Queen Elizabeth II finds herself caught up in Canada’s turmoil over the Quebec sovereignty movement and the beginnings of our constitutional crises. Subsequent decades bring further questions about the monarchy’s place in a modern Canada. And by the 1990s, a decade of unremitting bad news for the entire royal family, the headline simply reads: “The last Queen?”
But what’s most remarkable about this story arc is the renaissance our Queen has enjoyed in recent years. Her integrity and dedication over so many years of service, and the stability this provides, has made her relevant once more. As well, she’s silenced critics by securing the throne’s relevance into the future as well, placing it in the capable hands of the popular Prince William and Catherine, duchess of Cambridge. And so, after seven decades, the tale comes full circle, bursting with excitement and promise once more.
The second ebook, to be available shortly, offers an even-more detailed look at the British royal family from the gilded pen of one of Canada’s greatest writers. Before he authored such well-known works as The National Dream and Klondike, Pierre Berton was managing editor at Maclean’s; in 1953, he produced a massive seven-part series on the new Queen. The product of two years of research, a months-long assignment in Britain and hundreds of interviews, and reproduced in full in tablet form, this is a towering example of the in-depth, beautifully written and highly intelligent approach to storytelling that’s only possible in a magazine. Pierre Berton on the Young Queen Elizabeth II brings this series to a new generation of readers.
“The road she must take runs straight as a red carpet without curves or forks,” Berton wrote in 1953, of the young monarch’s many challenges. “Before its end is reached Elizabeth II may occupy the last throne in the world. But if her will prevails, she will not be the last Queen of England.” Six decades later the answer to Berton’s query is clear—her will has most definitely prevailed. Long live the Queen!