The Legacy of Elizabeth II: The Media Queen

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“It’s inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people. I am glad to have had the chance to witness and to take part in many dramatic changes in life, in this country. And with the support of my family, rededicate myself to the service of our great country.” “Queen Elizabeth II ushered the monarchy into a new and radically different era. Her reign blended the ancient and the modern. When she became queen, the country was still reeling from the memory of the Second World War. Her coronation in 1953 was the first royal event of its kind to be broadcast live on television. And it offered the British hope that something better was in the offing.” [cheering] “By then, the royal family was accustomed to broadcasting its message. In 1940, as Princess Elizabeth, the queen gave her first radio address.” “Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers.” “She was age 14, and Britain faced what Churchill called its finest hour in the war against Germany. Newsreel clips showed her parents inspecting the damage of bombing attacks on London.” “And the knowledge that their king and queen are among them, they were actually caught in a raid and had to take shelter during this particular visit, has greatly heartened the people.” “The royals understood the power of imagery, and television showed what the monarchy did best. The pageantry that celebrated its position, reinforcing its stature and the vital mystique that underpinned it.” “For the first time since her coronation, we saw the great state coach, ornate, gilded, richly painted. Perhaps the world’s most beautiful anachronism.” “This was technology that molded and massaged the information that reached the public about an ancient and distant institution. In the more than 60 years of the queen’s reign, the empire shrank back essentially to its island core, and she came to preside over a different nation, far less ready to acknowledge her, far less deferential, more assertive, more wealth-driven, greedier some people thought. It became increasingly important to use mass media and television where radio had sufficed in the past to control the royal narrative and uphold its importance. Above all, she created the impression of a royal household headed by a woman beyond all reproach, whose behavior was never, ever questioned. But upholding this image was not easy.” “We interrupt this film to tell you we are getting reports that Diana,” “Princess of Wales has died” “after a car crash in Paris.” “They were apparently being pursued by paparazzi on two motorcycles.” “After the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the Queen almost lost public sympathy irrevocably, seeming very, very distant, almost aloof. She appeared reluctant to respond to a yearning among the public for her to acknowledge the national mood of mourning. It was several days before she finally went on television and addressed the nation.” “Since last Sunday’s dreadful news, we have seen throughout Britain and around the world an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana’s death.” “Then, most tellingly of all, she stood in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace as the funeral cortege went by and lowered her head in acknowledgment of Diana’s immense popularity. Royal heads of state do not generally bow to other people, other people bow to them. And here she was in public, her head bowed, and that helped the monarchy begin to restore its image. As information became more readily available on computer screens and smartphones, the royal family established its own website. It took an account on Twitter. It used YouTube to broadcast its bigger moments.” [cheering] “You would find scripted, cautiously laid-out material that was designed overwhelmingly to create and reinforce the impression that this was a family at the service of the nation itself.” “Hip, hip, hooray!” “They wanted to make sure that they didn’t say the wrong things, that they kept their mystique. But that became harder and harder to do, and the junior members of the royal family made that harder to achieve. Prince Harry, her grandson, and Meghan Markle had decided to leave the royal family and set up a separate life for themselves in California. They went on to make various accusations against the royal family during a television interview with Oprah Winfrey.” “Months when I was pregnant, we have in tandem the conversation of he won’t be given security. He’s not going to be given a title and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.” “The impact of the new technology had been reversed. The monarchy now was the target from within its own ranks. This happened about the same time as Prince Philip was in hospital, and it seemed like a double challenge to the queen. But as much as she needed to communicate, she remains sparing in her public utterances. Less was always more.” “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty the Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, his Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.” “The death of Prince Philip was portrayed as a national tragedy. The couple had been married for 73 years. It was a relationship that had fused with the image of the monarchy. There was always the queen leading the way, with Philip a step behind as protocol required. Emotionally, though, he was at her side. The loss of her husband produced a tremendous outpouring of public sympathy. She responded at first with seclusion, then with the resumption of royal duties.” [laughing] “By and large, the queen’s tenure modernized the royal family without shedding its extraordinary privilege. It changed the way the world perceived the ancient institution and the way the institution reacted to the world. But at its heart, the monarchy remained ambivalent, bereft of executive power, reigning only with the tacit assent of its subjects, yet central to Britain’s sense of itself. Looking back, one is tempted to think, What was it? When did the queen define how she saw her role? And you could probably say in one speech in 1957.” “I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice, but I can do something else. I can give you my heart.” “This would be her legacy as her reign came to an end, the longest rule of any British monarch.”



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