I remember that day. I was eight years old. It was June 2nd 1953, cool, windy, showery. But it was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll. My family had bought our first TV, a little black and white set that we and our neighbours crowded around to watch the fuzzy images of the BBC’s (then) biggest ever live outside broadcast of an event
At just 25 years of age, the Queen had ascended to the throne immediately following the death of her father King George XI on 6 February 1952. Sixty years on, and this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee is a milestone among many.
At 86, she is the oldest reigning British monarch in over 1,000 years of history, the second longest reigning monarch (after Queen Victoria) and, together with the Commonwealth Realms of which there are 16 countries (including the U.K.), she reigns over 134 million people as Queen while also being Head of the Commonwealth of Nations with its 54 member countries. For someone whose image has been so enduringly steadfast and seemingly unchanging, she has in reality been anything but. Along the way she has mastered a thing or two about branding.
Six decades is a long time to perfect the top job and the world has constantly moved beneath her feet. But she got a head’s up on the lessons of triumph over challenge on her coronation day when word reached London that mountaineer Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (members of Britain’s 9th expedition to Mount Everest) had reached the summit of the world’s highest mountain.
Queen Elizabeth had a mountain of her own to climb even before the coronation. She never expected to become queen. Her destiny fell suddenly into place with the abdication of King Edward Vlll to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, not the smartest of moves by any royal standard. But it forced her father to step up to the plate to become King GeorgeV1.
All too soon she was grasping the orb and the sceptre and navigating her way through a world with an endgame that would see the demise of the British Empire, the emergence of the European Union, a burgeoning British middle class through an explosion of immigrants, and a shift in social structures that allowed all scholars onto ivy league campuses rather than just lofty aristocrats.
Then came the disastrous 1990s. In 1992, the 40th anniversary of her accession, the marriages of three of her four children collapsed in messy, public scandals, fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle, and the public was taking a second look at why they were paying for everything royal.
But it was the death of Diana in 1997 that was the wake-up call. The royals’ initial out-of-touch harsh response was a public relations disaster. Shaken, the Queen sought help outside the ‘old guard’ to rebrand the monarchy and face head-on the criticisms of being disconnected with the values of the public.
The monarchy’s reputation had tanked, leaving room in the collective mindset to question their expensive relevancy. They needed to change. Become open, approachable, accountable. Now they have their own website and can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
But the game-changer was Wills and Kate.
Last year’s royal wedding of the Queen’s grandson William to commoner Kate Middleton showed a couple who were open and happy. They had the ‘it’ factor with celebrity status but it has to be tempered with royal responsibilities which they were clearly capable of doing.
With this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee the popularity of the Queen is at an all-time high. Like those one thousand boats on the River Thames, Queen Elizabeth has steered the monarchy into calm waters.