Queen Elizabeth II is 85 today — 21 April 2011. It has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Certainly a long weekend in June is a great way to start the winter snow season. Glenn Davies asks when Queen Elizabeth II will be allowed to put up her feet.
Queen Elizabeth will turn 85 eight days before the Royal wedding. If her birthday had fallen on a friday this year there’s a pretty good bet William and Kate would have tied the knot on Granny’s birthday. Most 85 years olds are long retired, but not that trouper the Queen. My grandmother will be 85 later this year. She’s a hardy soul but there’s no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader! But poor Queen Elizabeth II just keeps working. When do you think she will be allowed to retire? Most people these days retire by 60, judges are forced to retire at 70, but Queen Elizabeth II, at nearly 85 keeps on working.
On Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday, after midnight in the heart of London, the first rehearsals were held for her funeral. As happened for her mother when she reached about that age, a mock funeral march was staged. They’ll do it every year. In the case of the Queen Mother, they’d had lots of practice by the time she died at 101.
On 13 April 2011, the Queen was forced to miss a key public engagement for the first time in five years. She was due to attend a service of the Royal Victorian Order with other senior members of the royal family at Windsor but pulled out at the last moment with a heavy nosebleed. She recovered enough to attend a reception in the state apartments of the castle afterwards but royal sources expressed concern at her sudden attack of ill-health. Up to 1200 people attend the event, held every four years for those who have been honoured by the Queen for their dedicated personal service, making it the most significant engagement she has cancelled since 2006.
In October 2006 the Queen had to scrap a day at the races because of a strained muscle in her back. When Rolf Harris went to accept his CBE at Windsor Palace, he received his gong for services to art and entertainment instead from Princess Anne. Also, the Queen had to pull out of opening the new Emirates stadium of English Premiership football club Arsenal in north London because of her back injury. This time her 85 year-old husband Philip deputised—can you think of any 85 year old men who are still working?
It is highly unusual for the stoical monarch to slow down on her schedule or withdraw from events. The Queen carries out hundreds of engagements a year alongside her official duties. In 2005, she carried out 378 engagements compared with 509 in 1996. Early in October 2006 she was in Belfast to review British soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland, despite suffering from a bloodshot eye.
Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952 and it was not until July 1982 that she was first admitted to hospital—to have a wisdom tooth removed. She was forced to cancel several engagements in 1993 because of the flu, while in 1994 she broke her wrist when her horse tripped during a ride on her Sandringham county estate in eastern England. In 2005, she cancelled three engagements because of a cold and sore throat, while in 2003 she had keyhole surgery after suffering a torn cartilage walking on rough ground. That led to a reduced schedule as she convalesced from the successful 45-minute operation. Further surgery on her left knee later the same year was combined with a procedure to remove minor growths from her face.
Her diary is full to capacity for the rest of the year including the imminent royal wedding, a state visit to Ireland next month and the visit to Britain by President Barack Obama. She is due to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in the southern hemisphere spring and will celebrate her diamond jubilee in 2012.
But if it’s the Queen’s birthday on 21 April then why do we have a public holiday to celebrate it in June each year? The idea of celebrating the sovereign’s birthday was introduced in 1905. After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 there was a call to remember her long reign. The result was the creation of Empire Day. On 24 May each year, Victoria’s birthday, an annual commemoration was held which was directed especially at school children to promote loyalty among the dominion countries of the British Empire. This day was celebrated by lighting fire-works in back-gardens and attending community bonfires. In 1958, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day. However, this is no longer celebrated within the Australian community. Instead Queensland has gazetted the official Queen’s birthday to be on the second Monday in June.
Perhaps celebrating the birthday of one of the fathers of federation such as Henry Parkes may be more relevant to Australians than either Queen’s Victoria or Elizabeth’s. Coincidentally, Parkes was born on 27 May 1815, almost three years earlier, to the day, than Queen Victoria. Federation Day sounds better than Empire Day, and it could still be held each year on the second Monday in June!
There’s no doubt Queen Elizabeth II is a sturdy trooper. But when will she be given a retirement watch from The Firm and be allowed to sleep in, watch Oprah or potter around in the garden. To make her keep working after 85 seems cruel and unusual punishment.
Happy birthday Queen Elizabeth II — and three cheers to the coming republic.