On Thursday, she opted to visit her horses privately rather than attend the first day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show. She had been expected to make the short drive from Windsor Castle to the showground to watch her horse, First Receiver, compete in a thoroughbred series qualifier.
The show is one of the Queen’s favourite events of the year. She has attended every year since it began as a wartime fundraising event in 1943.
And then on Friday she made a surprise appearance in the front seat of a Range Rover by the arena and later, with the aid of a walking stick, in the stands. She was cheered by spectators when they noticed her presence.
It is now expected she will be seen at only two of the events to mark her 70 years on the throne next month: the Trooping of the Colour, for the famed family portrait on the palace balcony, and the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral. If she attends the Derby at Epsom, it will likely be in an unofficial capacity, sitting in the royal box without any of the pomp and ceremony of arriving in a horse-drawn carriage down the famous straight.
She will watch a tribute concert and “people’s pageant” from the comfort of her lounge room. At 81, Sir Cliff Richard will take a starring role for the fourth jubilee of his long career, riding an open-topped double-decker bus through London’s streets.
He will be joined by celebrities including Oscar winner Jeremy Irons and England football hero Gary Lineker and a parade including TV character Basil Brush and a pack of moving corgi puppets.
Ed Sheeran will deliver the musical grand finale in front of Buckingham Palace. A noted fan of classic show tunes, along with the music of her wartime youth, the Queen’s artist of choice is Duke Ellington. She may not stay up for Ed.
Robert Jobson, the veteran royal commentator of London’s Evening Standard, says for the lifetime of the majority of her subjects the Queen’s assured, measured tones at Christmas and occasions of state have “given us all confidence”.
“At 96, surely it is now time for us to be there for her,” he says. “She should not have to continually wait to issue statements about ‘will she, won’t she’ be at a particular event. It is neither right nor proper.”
Jobson says as planners in London prepare for the jubilee celebrations, the royal family and the British government should use the moment to bring matters to a head. The Queen has already announced her wish that Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, should be queen consort when Charles becomes king, he says. And she has also urged Commonwealth leaders to support Charles as their next head when the time comes.
“She will remain our Queen, but she should not be expected to continue to carry out the mentally taxing and physical demands required of a constitutional head of state,” he says.
“Charles at 73 is the best-prepared monarch-in-waiting ever. He is a man of vision. He is, like his mother, dedicated and dutiful.
“At 96, the Queen should be free to relax and spend time doing exactly what she pleases. She deserves the chance to step aside while retaining her crown, and let Charles take the reins in the twilight of her illustrious reign. The end of her jubilee celebrations might be the right time to do that.”
One of her closest confidantes, her long-time dressmaker Angela Kelly, has revealed in the past weeks the Queen’s struggle with grief following the death of her husband, Prince Philip, last year.
Kelly recalled in an updated version of her memoir how the monarch opted to remain alone in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s funeral.
“I helped her off with her coat and hat and no words were spoken,” she said.
“The Queen then walked to her sitting room, closed the door behind her, and she was alone with her own thoughts.”
We should not be surprised. By the time Queen Victoria reached her diamond jubilee in 1897, she, too, had mobility issues. In her case, arthritic hips made her virtually immobile at the age of 78.
For this year’s events the Queen will not be using the gold state coach as it leads the Platinum Jubilee Pageant procession, and will travel instead by car to the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s, arriving at an easier entrance than the Great West Door.
Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty Magazine, says the Queen’s increasingly infrequent appearances had a “huge inevitability” about them given her age.
He said Charles’ delivering of the Queen’s speech this week was “another part of his training”, albeit a duty he probably did not want to fulfil given the circumstances.
“And that’s the future as I see it really,” Little says. “That we won’t see her but occasionally, we might.”
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