“We will meet again.”
Queen Elizabeth channelled her inner Vera Lynn on Sunday in a rare public address to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. That’s us, people.
Typically calming, typically assuring, typically coiffed, typically bejewelled — triple strand of pearls, blindingly blingy brooch, emerald (I think) surrounded by a panoply of diamonds.
Ninety-four on April 21. Which actually makes the sovereign younger than Dame Vera — sweetheart of the British armed forces during the Second World War — who turned 103 a couple of weeks ago, marking her birthday with the rerelease of the plaintive, poignant We’ll Meet Again, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Queen has had weekly meetings with her prime ministers — all 14 of them — for nearly seven decades. Few have been as shambolic as Boris Johnson.
“I am absolutely confident we can send coronavirus packing,” he told a press conference on March 19. Eight days later, he was the first leader of a major power to reveal he’d tested positive.
On Sunday, Johnson was admitted to hospital for tests because of “persistent symptoms.”
As of Sunday, the U.K. had recorded 47,806 cases of COVID-19 and 4,934 deaths.
It’s not an international scorecard. No country wants to win this derby. But Johnson was a handshaking fool in the pandemic’s salad days. Unknown if he shook the Queen’s hand last time they met face to face.
The monarch has been staying at Windsor Castle since mid-March with her 98-year-old husband, Prince Philip. It was from there, in the White Drawing Room — deemed safest to mitigate the risk of spreading infection, and with just a protective-geared BBC cameraman present — that the Queen pre-recorded her solemn but tender address.
Apart from her annual Christmas oration, only four times previously has the Queen spoken to the nation in this manner: during the Gulf War in 1991, on the eve of Diana’s funeral in 1997, upon the death of the Queen Mother in 2002, and for her Diamond Jubilee eight years ago.
To all the shut-ins, the sheltering in place, the self-isolating, the safe distancing, but mostly the front line health workers, the Queen gave solace and support.
“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time, a time of disruption in the life of our country, a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.
“I want to thank everyone on the (National Health Service), as well as care workers and those carrying out essential roles who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of us all.”
Of course, someone from the Queen’s staff wrote the words. No matter. Even virulently anti-monarchists have deep respect for this sovereign, who’s rarely put a sturdy-heeled foot wrong in her 66 years on the throne. She is the longest reigning British monarch ever, the longest reigning female monarch anywhere ever.
It’s a public reverence that will likely not be extended to her heir, Prince Charles (another coronavirus positive). And even a royalty fangirl such as moi has had a rethink about grandson Harry, who recently bolted from the royal rigamarole with spouse Meghan, making what turned out to be merely a fleeting pit stop in Canada with their baby Archie before shifting the Sussex circus to California.
Oy, the ingratitude of children and grandchildren. We won’t even get into the alleged dirty deeds of the disgraced Prince Andrew.
The Queen has had a lifetime of never saying what she thinks, at least not in public. We don’t have a clue. Her private thoughts, however juicy they might be — and perhaps someday in the distant future disclosed, if her diaries are published — are irrelevant.
Her spoken words, though, as scripted as they might be, are the stuff of headlines and respectful reception. Britons would have been listening in the pubs — if the pubs were open. They were certainly watching on the telly.
“I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home,” the Queen continued, “thereby protecting the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who’ve lost loved ones.”
The most vulnerable are the elderly — like the Queen. Although surely not even COVID-19 would dare.
Not like anybody would dare, either — to knock at the front gate of Windsor Castle to enquire how the elderly lady of the house is doing, and might she need a pot of jam.
“Together we are tackling this disease and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.”
In any event, some plain-speaking would be nice in this dominion at the moment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to sidestep increasingly pointed questioning about why Canadians can’t be trusted to absorb data about national projections, though several provinces are now providing that information. Ontario Premier Doug Ford took his finger out of that dike on Thursday.
Most of us are not COVID-crazy; we can handle the truth.
Unlike, say, the man in Sherbrooke, Que., who on Sunday allegedly deliberately rammed his car into a security guard at a Walmart after being told only one person per vehicle was let inside at one time. That security guard was fighting for his life on Sunday night.
There has been erosion of trust as well in Canada’s leading health officials, including Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer — at least from this corner.
It’s been bewildering, following the bouncing ball on whether civilians should or shouldn’t mask themselves when stepping outside, which we’re not supposed to do except for essential venturing forth.
I get it: Surgical masks offer flimsy protection and they only prevent spreading the pathogen to others, not inhaling it from an infected individual. But surely that’s the whole point of flattening the curve, isn’t it — halting contamination? Not to give unto others?
But apparently no, we’ll all go walkies half-cocked if encouraged to cover our faces. That’s clearly the no-mask dogma to which Tam cleaves.
She did, however, on Sunday urge hospitals not to toss out used masks and other protective equipment, as experts investigate whether it would be possible to disinfect and reuse them.
Nearly five weeks after the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic, after countless media stories day in and day out about dire mask shortage at Canadian hospitals, and they’re just now getting around to this?
I’m confused. I am mistrustful.
From the Queen, our Queen: “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.
“That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterize this country. The pride in who we are all is not part of our past, it defines our present and our future.”
What a dame.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.