The smiling Queen who will live forever in our hearts

It's the smile isn't it? The last picture of the Queen, smiling radiantly in front of a huge roaring fire at Balmoral, captured perfectly the place that Elizabeth will always hold in our hearts.

The Queen was radiant in her final picture
The Queen was radiant in her final picture

She was appointing her fourth prime minister in seven years. A hassle she could probably have done without at the best of times, let alone in what would be her final hours, suffering acute ill health at the age of 96. And yet, even then, she still managed a megawatt smile as she welcomed Liz Truss into her home.

Her Platinum Jubilee in June was a time of joyous celebration, when the nation was able to set aside divisions about Brexit, take a breather from Partygate and the war in Ukraine, and come together as one to celebrate a remarkable life of duty.

Yes, the usual suspects were boring the pants of anybody who would listen about the joys of republicanism. But this tedious griping only showed how out of touch they were. Because while our elected politicians have time and again fallen short of the standards we might expect of them, the Queen has never strayed from her devotion to duty across her entire adult life.

Elizabeth was 25 when she ascended to the throne. Imagine that. I sometimes look back at what I was like at 25; impulsive, impetuous, outspoken, just about responsible enough to manage the news diary for the Dudley Chronicle, but not a lot more. Yet, when she was still grieving the premature loss of her father, it fell on her young, inexperienced shoulders to bear the weight of the nation.

Indeed, very little in her life has been easy. She once said it was the loneliness of her own childhood, being educated by a private tutor within the confines of the palace, that made her determined that her own children would go to school. And she later remarked that her days as a mechanic in the Army at the end of the war were the happiest of her life, giving her a sense of freedom she had never experienced before. Imagine that; joining the Army to get a taste of freedom.

For seven decades, the Queen's life has been one of travelling the length and breadth of the country, surrounded by security staff, cutting ribbons at village halls and opening college buildings. Tea and biscuits at conference centres, long-winded speeches from local dignitaries. Glad-handing bloodthirsty dictators in the name of realpolitik. Politely tolerating the uncouth behaviour of some of the more oafish characters we have little choice but to indulge. She even shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a man who a few years earlier would have cheerfully planted a bomb under her car given half a chance. And still, she managed a smile.

Like most people, I have never properly met the Queen – the closest I ever came was watching her during a visit to Dudley Castle in 1994. And in many ways, we never really knew that much about her. We know she liked horse racing and football – although she was too tactful to divulge what team she supported ­– and her skits with Paddington Bear and James Bond belied a mischievous sense of humour which we never really saw with any previous monarch.

And while every minor celebrity these days feels the need to pour their hearts out about their personal lives, their struggles, and their politics, the Queen has spent her entire life keeping resolutely tight-lipped. If only some of the other royals had shown that discipline.

In many ways, the Queen's life has been one of vast contradictions: fabulously wealthy on paper, yet content to potter around the countryside in a battered old Land Rover and re-use her Christmas wrapping; an anachronism from a bygone age, who successfully brought a venerable institution into the 21st century. But, most pertinently of all, the leader of a mid-sized country who was unquestionably the most recognisable and respected head of state in the world.

And if you doubt that, just look at how news organisations around the world are reporting on her death. Or how desperate a star-struck Donald Trump was to attend a state visit with Her Majesty. She was not just our Queen, she was the world's Queen.

While the great kings and queens of the past always seemed foreboding characters, serious and stern-looking leaders constantly primed for battle, Elizabeth will always be the Queen with the smile: the shy young princess who evolved into the world's favourite grandmother.

Not a bad way to be remembered, is it?

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