The Queen withdrew from Remembrance Sunday with less than two hours’ notice. Now a new theory has emerged about what is really going on.
For 364 days a year, the building at Whitehall 22 in London, which happens to be the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, is just another example of the city’s magnificent Italian architecture. Another commanding piece of 19th-century design in a capital city that is positively filled with impressive Victorian buildings.
But on a Sunday every November, the eyes of the world are on the balconies of this very building, for that is where the Queen now usually observes the gloomy ceremony at the nearby Cenotaph to celebrate those who have served in the armed forces.
And this year? And so monarch? For the first time in her royal career (when she was in the country and not pregnant) she was not on the balcony for Remembrance Sunday, triggers new concerns about her health.
The reason for her missed arrival, a remarkable rarity during a nearly 70-year reign, was due to a sprained back, according to Buckingham Palace. While last week’s aides had announced that it was her “firm intention” to show up at the memorial, less than two hours before she was to arrive on Sunday morning, it was announced that the 95-year-old withdrew “with great remorse”.
While Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge in particular, stepped into the Queen’s literal place and took the primo balcony for the ceremony (sorry Camilla), the absence of the actual sovereign was fourth such significant event as she has set since her current health crisis began, including a two-day tour of Northern Ireland, the Cop26 climate conference, the Festival of Remembrance and this week’s Church of England General Synod.
The obvious, sharp question: Is it time to start producing our black bracelets? Should we prepare to pour our gin martinis to honor the seemingly tireless royal workhorse?
The good news is, not yet – but a new hypothesis has emerged in the last 24 hours what is really sick Her Majesty and going on behind the scenes.
What is it that suffers from the queen?
While palace sources were reportedly quick to claim that her sprained back was not linked to her doctor’s call for her to rest or her still mysterious hospitalization last month, Camilla Tominey writes in The Telegraph, has reported that this development “places more emphasis on the theory that the Queen’s health problems are largely mobility-related”.
“It is no secret in royal circles that the queen has not been as mobile as she used to be, and suffered particularly from knee and hip pain.”
Also, The times’ Valentine Low has reported: “It is understood that there were concerns that the Queen, 95, will have to stand on the Foreign Office balcony for up to half an hour, as well as having to endure the drive from Windsor and back again.”
Also in September, it was revealed that she had temporarily stopped riding her beloved sweethearts after experiencing “quite a bit of discomfort” during her summer vacation but that she intended to return to the saddle soon.
To add further weight to this argument is the fact that in October Queen was seen using a cane for the first time in 17 years. (And then it had only been because she had undergone knee surgery.) Eye-catching viewers were quick to spy, when she attended a service in Westminster Abbey with her daughter Princess Anne and said that the person in question appeared visibly used, which suggests that she may have used it privately for a while.
So would it really shock anyone to learn that a woman who is just shy about her centenary was not as physically fit as she once was?
But that does not mean that we should all breathe big sighs of relief yet.
Concerns increase over the monarch’s health
The Daily Beast’s Tom Sykes has reported that “concerns for the queen … have been building up in royal circles ever since her husband’s death in April”.
At the same time, a source close to the queen told Times in October simply: “She’s kinky.”
It was only four days after Prince Philips’ funeral earlier this year that Her Majesty returned to the royal rudder cult and hosted a ceremony for the retirement of her Lord Chamberlain. (However, after Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert died, she retired to Balmoral and it took a decade before she really returned to public life.)
After returning to work after her summer break, she made eight commitments in less than two weeks, including a trip to Wales and Scotland, before doctors ordered her to slow down.
‘Sick leave’ is not really something that has ever entered the monarchical vernacular before. But one way to understand this sudden, particularly cautious palace’s approach to the Queen’s health is to take a look at what’s just over the horizon: her platinum anniversary year.
Everyone looks at the anniversary year
On February 6, it will be exactly 70 years since she received the devastating news that her father King George VI had died suddenly and that she, decades earlier than expected, had ascended the throne.
Many events are already planned throughout the year to mark the historic occasion (she is the first British monarch to ever take such a long reign) and across the UK, culminating in a multi-day celebration in June that will feature 5,000 participants strong competition. (Just to soften the deal, the British will have a four-day holiday.)
For Buckingham Palace, the anniversary is not just another chance to remind the people of all that glorious pomp and circumstance associated with a hereditary monarchy, but it will serve as something of a palate cleanser – at least in theory.
The last few years of the house in Windsor have been marked (and damaged) by Prince Andrew’s ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and more recently, his is being sued in a New York court for raping a teenager who was sexually assaulted on three occasions. (Andrew has reportedly and strictly denied the allegations.)
Then there is Megxit and the sequel reverberation triggered by Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s explosive exit from the HRH judgment.
These two situations have meant that the royal family has recently come to be defined by worrying allegations of sexual abuse, institutional racism and a certain kind of emotionless ignorance of serious mental problems.
Basically a particularly sour and smelly mess.
And this is where the anniversary comes in. It’s a chance to try to wash away the lingering bad taste in the public mouth when it comes to the royal family. Courtiers need the queen to be ship-shaped and ready for action (by which I mean, wave and sometimes smile) in 2022 to lead this public relations task, to project the unity and continuity of the family and to add a little much-needed dignity to the process.
I use the word “try” here, because regardless of the palace’s best laid out plans, the chance that The Firm can once and for all be able to move on from Andrew and the Sussex debacles in the coming months is exactly zero.
Key dates in Virginia Giuffre’s trial of Andrew, whom she accused of sexually abusing her, are set for May, June and July.
Then, at some point, thought to be during the second half of the year, Prince Harry will release his memoirs which will almost certainly rock the palace to its foundations and rake the fillings of the remaining HRHs.
In short: there will be an even greater need for the Queen to be at the center in the coming year to prevent the royal brand from sinking during the coming wave of negative pressure. Therefore, there is even more reason to keep her hidden in Windsor right now to recover and rebuild her strength for what is already becoming a difficult and turbulent year.
If all goes well, Her Majesty will be back in place for next year’s Remembrance Sunday and Whitehall’s most famous balcony will be back in the royal business. And if not? Close the doors, chap.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and author with more than 15 years of experience working on a number of Australia’s leading media titles.