The way the United Kingdom has reacted to the death of the Queen suggests a nation of people more calm and in control of themselves than some would have you believe.
It has been said of the Queen frequently in recent days that she embodied old-fashioned British values, a clear and implicit admission that such virtues — selflessness, duty, reserve, among others — are now well out of fashion. Yet the United Kingdom’s reaction to the death of the Queen and respect of the mourning period by nearly all has been one that has shown the nation is clearly in grief, but also in command of its emotions.
This is not, after all, the wild outpouring that the United Kingdom saw in the period following the death of Princess Dianna in 1997. That was said at the time to signal the end of the old British reserve, and the start of a new and emotionally incontinent Britain. Yet perhaps on reflection, after that unguarded moment there was a silent and unspoken agreement that things had gone too far: the Britain of the past two weeks appears to be one more mature and at ease with itself than in the 1990s.
There can be no doubt that the Queen has been a figure of fundamental importance to the nation. A reign of 70 years — with its ups and downs, of course, but most would surely admit considerably more ups — unparalleled in history.
Yet there is no suggestion the quiet response of the country to the passing of the Queen is rooted in a lack of interest. The Queen’s coronation in 1953 was the most watched television event in history at that point and it is confidently predicted her funeral today will break new records: it is expected it will be watched by billions.
Consider what we refer to now only as ‘the queue’ — a line of such incredible scale it apparently needs no more qualification — in which hundreds of thousands at least gave up a day or days to pay their final respects. It is striking that the queue itself, despite the clear hardship of spending up to 24 hours on the feet outdoors, has been characterised by such good humour. The word stoic has been bandied about and rightly in this case: the thousands who made up the five-mile-plus line at any given time must have been one of the most upbeat yet grimly determined, best-behaved crowds in human history.
The funeral itself has been an event of unrivalled pageantry, seamlessly integrating the ancient with the modern and carried by the most perfectly executed military drill anywhere (sorry to our beloved American cousins reading this, but it’s true). While the ‘new’ traditions integrated into the ceremonial of this millennia-old monarchy are already 120 years young, the events of the past days do not feel at all out of date or irrelevant.
The Queen has been the standard-bearer for the old ways. But as she changed the monarchy to better suit modern life and modern media, it seems 21st century Britons have also — ever so subtly — learned from her in turn. And seeing the way the country has carried itself these past weeks with quiet dignity, seriousness tinged with good humour, and respect, you can’t doubt that has been for the good.