12 Sep

'Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - A Life Well Lived' by Her Excellency Vicki Treadell CMG, MVO, British High Commissioner to Australia

It is with a heavy heart that I write this.  I have struggled to find the opening words but I have settled on her own words when, as Princess Elizabeth, her father ascended the throne and her fate was sealed.  She said “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service”.  We are blessed that her life was long, we are humbled by her service and sacrifice in delivering on her promise.

We have grown up with her as a presence in our lives, ever there for moments of national celebration or sadness, her name invoked in the business of government and the changing political cycle in our parliaments.  Her image on our coins or banknotes, gazing benignly down at us from portraits on the walls of government buildings and institutions.  She was a constant, a reassuring presence, a much respected and cherished Head of State.  For her family she was a beloved Mama and Granny.  At the centre of the events of recent days is a family in grief, contending with their emotions even as the spotlight falls on them as they necessarily play their part in the affairs of state and meet public expectations to share their sadness because they are The Royal Family.

To the last Her Majesty played her part, though clearly frail, presiding over the smooth transition of Boris Johnson’s premiership to that of Liz Truss.  She was the stability and assurance of continuity on which our democracies hold steady even in troubled times when the headwinds are strong.  She has so often been the calm at the centre of the storm.  She once said, “The function of constitutional monarchy is to personify the democratic state, to sanction legitimate authority, to assure the legality of means, and guarantee the execution of public will. It is my ardent desire that no citizen in my realms should suffer restraint”.  I think in these sad days, as we have watched the transition from her reign to her son’s, we have come to appreciate better what a constitutional monarchy offers as long as that is the public will.  She understood that, as does her son.

When news first broke last Thursday that The Queen’s doctors were concerned for her health, recommending she remain under medical supervision, I felt a sense of foreboding.  I was watching Prime Minister Liz Truss’ statement in The House of Commons on the energy crisis on TV when The Speaker very unusually interrupted proceedings with this up-date. When news came through later that members of her immediate family were travelling to be with her, it was clear that the day we had all hoped would not come was imminent and so it came to pass.  The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral surrounded by her sons and daughter and love. 

Many Prime Ministers and Heads of Government, not just across her Realms or the Commonwealth, but globally, have sought her wise counsel and she has kept their confidences.  From Churchill to Truss in Britain and Menzies to Albanese in Australia, she has been a constant against our shifting politics, serving and supporting each government in turn.  She loved Australia and watched with keen interest this country emerge with confidence, defining its modern identity and place in the world.  She visited sixteen times, met and engaged with thousands of Australians over her life. For us in Britain, her reign has seen: our entry into the Common Market (as was) to our departure from the EU; from the early years of her reign presiding over Britain’s changing place in the world as colonies became proud new independent nations and The Commonwealth was formed as a new family of nations built on equal respect, partnership and the shared values of democracy, sovereignty and rule of law; from the Swinging Sixties to Cool Britannia to Global Britain; from starring with James Bond to Paddington Bear; she has not only spanned and transcended history, she has made history.  She has simply been a guiding light and one of the most consequential global figures of our time.    

I had the great privilege of meeting The Queen on five occasions over my life from when I was a young diplomat in Kuala Lumpur in 1989 through to more recent times.  On that first occasion my duties required me to follow her for every second of her official day from when her programme began to when it ended each evening over several days.  On the last day, she bestowed on me Membership of the Royal Victoria Order for my services to her and HRH Prince Philip.  There was a moment during that visit that only she, Prince Philip, her then Private Secretary Sir Robert Fellowes and I shared.  Years later in 2010 at my audience with her prior to taking up my appointment as British High Commissioner to New Zealand, she reminded me of it.  I was so moved that in all the intervening years and the tens of thousands of people she had met, that by recalling and reminding me of that moment, she made me feel that I was not just the next Head of Mission she was seeing off but someone she remembered and maintained an interest in.  It is a rare gift.    

She was, for me, an inspirational role model, a woman thrust into leadership that she had not sought when she was only twenty five.  Yet she rose to the demands of royal duty, personal sacrifice and public service with a dedication and commitment that has set a standard for those of us who served in her name.  Her curiosity and sense of humour combined with compassion, dignity and integrity in all she did, even at the toughest of times reminded us there is always hope, there is always good in the world, that the light of dawn always follows the darkness of night.  She was simply remarkable.  She had a capacity to put you at ease and to make you feel special, that her attention was only on you even if that moment was seconds. 

We now go into a world without her as Her Elizabethan Age closes and a new era begins with her son and heir, His Majesty King Charles III.  Even as he carries his grief, and provides his family with solace as they deal with theirs, he takes on the burden of responsibility destiny demands – a responsibility he has embraced just as his mother did before him.  He shares her sense of duty and public service, preparing for this moment all his life, but in the sad knowledge that the moment comes with his mother’s demise.  He found the words nonetheless, when he addressed the nation, other Realms and The Commonwealth,  that expressed these balances so well – “Queen Elizabeth was a life well lived, a promise with destiny kept and she is mourned most deeply in her passing… Thank you for your love and devotion to our family and to the family of nations you have served so diligently all these years”.  He went on to say “As the Queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I too now pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation… I shall endeavour to serve with loyalty, respect and love”.

Having worked alongside him over seven days when he visited Malaysia in 2017, when I was High Commissioner there, I have no doubt he will deliver, as his mother did before him, on this promise.  He shares her mastery of a brief and powers of recollection of facts and detail, a genuine and personal interest in people, in finding solutions, in using his office to make a difference, equally at ease and engaged whether his interlocutors were indigenous elders in Sarawak, university students on a campus or Malaysian Royalty and billionaire corporate leaders or, on walkabout, engaging with warmth and humour with ordinary people.  He has long championed the environment and Climate Action and now we see the world catch up with his thinking as we address this global challenge.  His work with Youth and the promotion and preservation of indigenous arts and culture through The Prince’s Trust again ahead of many.  His time has come.

As we greet his reign, his words to his mother echo - “And to my darling Mama, as you begin your last great journey to join my dear late Papa, I want to say this: thank you… May ‘flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest”.  Indeed, Ma’am, rest in peace and thank you.  God Save The King.  

Vicki Treadell CMG MVO

BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER TO AUSTRALIA & HEAD OF THE OCEANIA NETWORK

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