There are two events that can define a separation of generations: Where were you when Princess Diana got married? Where were you when she died?
I was a tiny toddler sitting on my young mom’s lap for the first, an awkward 17-year-old for the second. San Diego’s Starlight Musical Theatre was in the middle of a production of Singin’ in the Rain and my job was to get costumes onto cast members before they hurtled out onstage.
Somehow I learned she was dead during the performance, in the time before widespread cell phones or internet. News spread fast, through the usual backstage channels, in whispers and passed notes. The busy dressing rooms were oddly quiet. People danced off stage and started crying in the wings. Downstairs, near the costume shop, they used the pay phone to find out details from friends.
The world seemed stunned, half silent. But why? Why did we spend the next few days glued to the television and the radio? Why did we leave flowers and sing songs and feel personally affected by a woman few knew and even fewer ever understood? Who was this bashful princess, anyway? This reading list contains a few answers—but 20 years after her death, the enigmatic Diana is harder to grasp than ever.
A couple of months ago I had a strange epiphany: the only thing currently keeping the world barely intact is a British nonagenarian who likes corgis.
The second half of the 20th century, the era in which we (kind of) still live, is in the process of vanishing, from Fidel Castro and the Voting Rights Act to Carrie Fisher and non-apocalyptic weather. Yet against all odds, the Queen — until not that long ago, the most boring member of a dysfunctional dynasty — has emerged as the embodiment of good sense and decency, an unflappable, gray-haired titan. Her very perseverance (she’s currently the world’s longest-serving head of state) proves: we’re not doomed. Yet.
Monarchies are ridiculous at best, vicious and blood-thirsty at worst. But after a year in which so many unthinkable things had come to pass, I find myself doing something previously unimaginable: rooting for Elizabeth II. She’s a mentsch. She survived 12 US presidents (chances of surviving #13: not amazing, but who knows? Windsors seem to hate dying). She’s found the precise balance between being real and unreal, flesh-and-blood and emblem. Here are a few great reads on the Queen.
No one lives forever, not even monarchs. In a recent piece for Business Insider UK, Rob Price explored the slightly morbid topic but deeply fascinating topic of what will happen in Britain when 88-year-old Queen Elizabeth II’s reign comes to an end. The Queen has been on the throne for over six decades, during which time 12 different Prime Ministers have served Britain (as well as 12 US Presidents). Price posits that her eventual death will be the most disruptive event in Britain in the last 70 years, affecting all aspects of British life. In the excerpt below, he discusses how this will play out on the BBC:
Assuming the Queen’s passing was expected, the news will spread at first via the main TV channels. All BBC channels will stop their programming and show the BBC1 feed for the announcement. The other independent channels won’t be obligated to interrupt their regular programming. But they almost certainly will.
At the BBC, anchors actively practice for the eventuality of the Monarch’s passing so they won’t be caught unaware on their shifts. The BBC’s Peter Sissons was heavily criticised for wearing a red tie to announce the Queen Mother’s passing (as seen above), and the BBC now keeps black ties and suits at the ready at all times. Presenters also run drills in which they’re required to make sudden “spoof” announcements that are never broadcast.
The last death of a Monarch was in 1952, and the BBC stopped all comedy for a set period of mourning after the announcement was made. The Daily Mail reports that the BBC plans to do the same again today, cancelling all comedy until after the funeral.