We will not see a queen like the Queen again, any more than we will see Joan of Arc, Shakespeare or Churchill

MY MEMORY gropes back to the first occasion I met the Queen. . .

It occurs to me that she was a shining example compared to the whole camorra of celebrities, career politicians and more that my privileged upbringing exposed me to (my father was now a member of the House of Lords and Chairman of the Horserace Totalizator Board the dead).

The Queen looks radiant in an official portrait from 1992

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The Queen looks radiant in an official portrait from 1992Photo Credit: Terry O’Neill / Iconic Images
Her Majesty photographing Prince Philip at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1982

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Her Majesty photographing Prince Philip at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1982Credit: Tim Graham-Getty

It was in the late 1980s at a race meeting in Sandown Park, Surrey, and the Queen was running a horse.

I remember a cold day with a thin afterglow from the winter sun.

An hour before the Queen’s arrival, my father had introduced me to her sister, Princess Margaret.

As an introduction to royalty, it was palpably restless. With the over-enthusiasm of youth (I was 16) I had applied a thick layer of maquillage.

The princess, who had metal eyes, dismissed me in a voice scary with sarcasm: “Did you want to look 35?”

When the Queen entered I was unbearably nervous after wiping my lipstick with a sleeve.

She was with one of her ladies-in-waiting. I was immediately struck by her looks.

Despite the cold, she wore a light coat and her complexion showed no signs of the elements.

It was apple white with a hint of peony and almost unlined.

Aside from her hair – the darkness of which is flecked with gray – she looked very similar to the photos taken at the time of her coronation.

As my father led me to where she stood, shorter than I but as tall as the Parthenon in her brown mid-heeled shoes, I could smell her perfume, fresh as summer’s first honeysuckle.

Her face was round but compact, and her almost violet eyes were like laser lights.

Her hands were so delicate that they gripped mine with dry warmth as I rose from my curtsy.

Her smile was oddly girly and utterly disarming.

Many years earlier I had met Pope John Paul II.

He had seen much pain and even death and yet lived with an innocence within himself. No child. But something clean and pure.

The same quality was also evident in Queen Elizabeth.

She had witnessed great suffering traveling throughout the Commonwealth during the war, and she had suffered herself. God, she had suffered.

She had lost a beloved father to cancer, and at the same dark hour, the responsibility of the nation had been placed on her 25-year-old shoulders.

We won’t see her again, just as we won’t see Joan of Arc, Shakespeare or Churchill.

Her manners were those of another, some would say, less selfish age.

My father knew her private secretary, Michael Adeane, who said of Elizabeth II: ‘It was quite remarkable when she became queen after the king died.

“She never thought of herself. The Queen Mother did, and so did Princess Margaret, but this young woman was exceptional.

Her complexion is apple white. Her perfume like the first honeysuckle of summer. Her eyes purple, like laser light. A treat for your hands. But the special, crazy magic was… she was so much herself.

Petronella Wyatt

“People say there was a greater sense of duty back then. But that was something special.

“In a way, she was a freak. Completely composed and dry-eyed – looking ahead with an extraordinary determination not to let anyone down.”

The spectacle seen in movies or on stage does not show how people of high social status and character actually behave, but how actors think they should behave.

It’s a means of entertaining an audience, but it’s obviously wrong.

Even Dame Helen Mirren, Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, to name just a few of the outstanding actresses who impersonated Elizabeth II, were amateurs, reality reduced to sheer absurdity.

What was special about the Queen – the special magic – wasn’t that she was royal when she was, nor that she reassured me about what she was doing, but that she was so completely herself.

And yes, that was crazy. There was nothing wrong or rehearsed about the woman standing before me that January afternoon, and even to my young eyes she seemed to have maintained that self-control all her life.

And it was as timeless and fresh as cucumber sandwiches or strawberries and cream.

I later remarked on this to her lady-in-waiting, who said, “Her Majesty never changes.

“She’s not what you would call fashionable in her approach. It adapts, but the essence remains the same. This is their greatest strength.

“You always know what you’re getting.”

When I asked her to address it, she paused before thinking about it.

“What people don’t realize is that she has the most wonderful sense of humor. She likes nothing better than a good gossip, but it’s never malicious.

“She has no pomposity and never sits in court. It got her through it all.”

If Elizabeth II was a brand, which in a way it was, it was the most successful brand in history.

Unlike the average celebrity, politician, or even other famous royals, including Princess Diana and the flashy-chic Margaret, she transcended the evanescence of fashion while never going out of style.

She was a full presence, but she was not a cast bronze statue.

She could sneeze and be human like the rest of us.

If kindness is rare among the privileged, as rare as a spotless emerald, she was that jewel.

When she noticed I didn’t have binoculars, she offered me hers so I could get a better view of the next race.

In my nervous excitement I managed to grab them while they were still around their necks.

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She started coughing and for a horrible moment I thought I was going to strangle her.

Finally she snorted in amusement before remarking wryly, “You must have a great passion for horses. Maybe it would be safer if we had a cup of tea.”

The Queen at the races with Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Philip in 1986

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The Queen at the races with Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Philip in 1986Photo credit: Getty

https://www.the-sun.com/news/6198438/the-queen-perfected-presence/ We will not see a queen like the Queen again, any more than we will see Joan of Arc, Shakespeare or Churchill

DevanCole

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