WAMU 88.5 : The Diane Rehm Show

Sally Bedell Smith: "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life a Modern Monarch" (Rebroadcast)

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth will observe her diamond jubilee next month. It’s been sixty years since her father, George the Sixth, died. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary became head of the Commonwealth at age twenty five. During her reign – the longest since Queen Victoria’s – she’s ushered the British monarchy into the modern age. The young princess who never expected to become queen has evolved from working mother to wise grandmother during her reign. Despite heading a sometimes flawed family, Elizabeth’s popularity has survived -- even thrived -- in recent years. Diane and her guest discuss the life of Britain’s Elizabeth II and the modern monarchy.

Program Highlights

Queen Elizabeth will celebrate 60 years on the throne next month. Only one other British ruler, Queen Victoria, has observed a diamond jubilee. Sally Bedell Smith's latest biography chronicles the life of Elizabeth II, her legacy and what the future holds for the British monarchy.

Why Do Americans Care About The Monarchy?

"I think that people really have so much respect for her, for the way she has conducted herself now, marking 60 years on the throne, which is quite remarkable and only the second time in 1,000 years," Bedell Smith said. Bedell Smith also pointed out that Queen Elizabeth II has lived an extraordinary life of service. "She's extremely hard-working and she has rarely put a foot wrong," Bedell Smith said.

A Sense Of Duty

Elizabeth became queen at age 25, but even before then, she exhibited a strong sense of duty. Bedell Smith cites one speech she made at age 21 that reportedly caused tears around the country: "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me as I now invite you to do. I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it," Elizabeth said.

The Match: Prince Philip

Bedell Smith said that Elizabeth fell in love with Philip on the first day they spent together at the Dartmouth Naval College, when she was 13 and he was 18. Even at 18, Philip was a "man of the world," according to Bedell Smith, and very attractive. He was penniless. "But it was a real love match and it turned out they were very well-suited to each other," Bedell Smith said.

Diana's Death

The week of Diana's death was probably the worst of the queen's life, Bedell Smith said. She was in Balmoral trying to take care of her grandsons, and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was trying to guide her into being more responsive to the British people, which helped her a great deal and changed the relationship between the two. She eventually came around to the idea of flying the Union Jack at half-mast at Buckingham Palace, which was previously unheard of, but was a significant symbol once she agreed to it. And she did instinctively show a softer side of herself to the public, as when she and Prince Philip unexpectedly got out of their car at the gates of Buckingham Palace to speak to people gathered there who were mourning Diana.

You can read the full transcript here.

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