The Queen has often said birthdays are just an unwanted reminder of how old she is, but when she reaches her 96th birthday on 21 April I doubt she will be allowed to forget it. Looking back over the past 12 months they have to be among the toughest experienced by Her Majesty throughout her long life.
The death of her beloved husband on 9 April 2021 would not have been a complete surprise but was a shock nevertheless. After that nothing seemed to go exactly to plan and eventually the Queen’s own health suffered. In February she caught Covid-19, having managed to avoid it for two years, and was obliged to cancel her ‘virtual’ engagements for a week. It was a worry for everyone but she continued to undertake light duties and spoke on the telephone to prime minister Boris Johnson, no doubt about the crisis in Ukraine.
The invasion by Russia dominated the news, but although the Queen is our head of state she left it to the Prince of Wales to make a personal statement of support for Ukrainians. Prince Charles, who once likened Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, warned that freedom is under attack ‘in the most unconscionable way’ in Ukraine and promised ‘solidarity’ with all those ‘resisting brutal aggression’.
Also in February the Duke of York settled, in principle, the civil sexual assault case brought against him by Virginia Giuffre. His lawyers reached a confidential agreement to pay her an undisclosed sum and donate to her charity, which supports victims of sex trafficking. The amount of the settlement will be substantial, but it is not an admission of guilt. What Prince Andrew will do next is open to conjecture, but as far as Mrs Giuffre is concerned he will have insisted on confidentiality – even if temporary – before agreeing to settle the case.
Members of the royal family are travelling around the Commonwealth to represent the Queen in her platinum jubilee year. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were allocated Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas, while the Earl and Countess of Wessex have a whistle-stop tour of Antigua, Barbuda, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines this month. The Princess Royal meanwhile will visit Papua New Guinea and Australia, where the opening of Sydney Royal Easter Show is on her agenda. How they must wish Britannia was still in commission, especially around the Caribbean islands, as the royal yacht made travelling a pleasure instead of a chore and was the perfect place for entertaining guests.
Back home, the Tower of London moat is being transformed into a vibrant field of flowers to celebrate the platinum jubilee. More than 20 million seeds are being sown and between June and September there will be an ever-changing display of colours and patterns. If they so choose, visitors can grab a mat and slip down into the moat on the ‘Superbloom’ slide to access the meandering path. A specially commissioned sound installation will draw people in and make them feel at home among the bees and butterflies. It is an ambitious scheme but it promises to be as striking as the ceramic poppies were in 2014.