The end of most pandemic restrictions in England came as a huge relief to many. Although the House of Windsor adapted well to the situation, meeting royalty face to face is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience; working remotely via Zoom
was successfully embraced – especially by the Queen who seemed to enjoy it all – but it was never going to be quite the same.
As a gesture of appreciation for the NHS personnel who risked and sometimes lost their lives in treating Covid-19 patients, the Queen has awarded the George Cross to the National Health Services of the UK. She praised the ‘courage, compassion and dedication’ shown in the 73 years since the service was founded and in a handwritten letter said the award ‘recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations’.
It is only the third time that the George Cross, instituted by King George VI in September 1940, has been awarded collectively rather than to an individual. The first time was to Malta in 1942, in recognition of the fortitude displayed by the island’s inhabitants during incessant enemy bombardments in the Second World War.
In 1999, the Queen awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in recognition of the collective and sustained bravery of the force, including the families of those serving.
This latest award was given on the advice of the George Cross Committee, which includes the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Edward Young. Of particular significance is the message in the Queen’s remarkably firm hand on Windsor Castle headed paper. Family and friends are used to receiving letters from her, but we seldom see Her Majesty penning statements herself, which, although written on behalf of the government, makes it personal as well as official.
The Duke of Cambridge and the Prince of Wales both caught Covid-19, as did Princess Michael of Kent; she had it twice and then fell victim to the effects of long Covid. The Duchess of Cambridge escaped, but had to isolate in July after coming into contact with someone who tested positive shortly before the rules were relaxed.
As patron of the Lawn Tennis Association, Catherine normally attends the Wimbledon championships every year. This year on the fifth day she managed to see both Jamie and Andy Murray play before heading to the kitchens to thank staff for their endeavours at the height of the pandemic, when they prepared food for elderly local residents.
The Queen, who is not particularly interested in tennis, preferred to go to the Royal Windsor Horse Show where over four days she saw her Fell ponies compete and her granddaughter Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor skilfully drive the late Duke of Edinburgh’s carriage.
This month Her Majesty will return to Balmoral for her first summer sojourn without her husband. The Scottish estate has been very special to both of them and it is where Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN proposed to the 20-year-old princess 75 years ago.
The Queen will once again enjoy the company of family and friends staying at the castle instead of seeing them only on picnics, from a distance, as was the case last year.