Peter Kirstein – the man who helped Queen Elizabeth hit ‘send’ on her first email in 1976 – has died. His passing, the result of a brain tumour, symbolises not only a life of great leaps forward but also great change.
In 1953, when Elizabeth took the throne at just 25, world figures included Churchill, Stalin and Eisenhower. Now it is Bojo, Putin and Trump. In 1949, just eight nations created the Commonwealth. Today membership comprises 53 states and 2.4 billion people.
Summarising these sweeping changes, and how our attitudes have changed, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu neatly observes:
“Deference to aristocracy has been displaced by the adulation of celebrity. Formality has given way to familiarity. The focus of morality has shifted from personal ethics to corporate responsibility. And if you are under 30, the ubiquitous smartphone and social media have replaced mass media.”
Amid such change, however, the Queen has sustained a constant commitment to service and pursuit of the common good. While these traits are heralded even by sceptics – “we are all Elizabethans” declared Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 – it’s worth pausing on the more acute pressures that have tested her reign.
The ascension to the throne itself – marked by the twin pressures of intense grief and responsibility – has required an obvious steadfastness. Three decades of troubles in Northern Ireland, jarred by bombings and guerrilla warfare, was further laced with symbolic personal attacks and threat. And 1992 – labelled ‘Annus horribilis’ – saw divorces and separation, the death of a nephew, new levels of media intrusion and a fire at Windsor Castle. More recent times have also been ‘active’ in royal terms – Westminster log jam around Brexit, Prince Andrew, Phillip’s car crash and the intense fever surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
These moments represent a seismic departure from a time when intrigue, scandals, divorce and family openness were much more taboo. But they expose the human pressures that require personal and public leadership – something that, royal or not, we can all share.
Ultimately, the Queen has lived her Golden Jubilee declaration that managing constant change “has become an expanding discipline” and that “the way we embrace it defines our future.” The internet will obviously be with us for some time. And so will change. But enduring values of service and a commitment to the common good will also serve as timeless in themselves.
Image source: The Spectator