Shortcuts / 15 September 2022

Queen Elizabeth and King Charles

It doesn’t matter about your age, where you live, or what you were doing last week – it’s very likely you’ve been swept up in coverage of the Queen’s death and the new era of King Charles III. So in this episode of Squiz Shortcuts, we cut through the noise and take a look at a brief overview of the Queen’s 70-year reign, the events of the past week and what could happen going forward, and the future of the monarchy here in Oz.

It’s been quite the week…
It sure has. The global reaction to the Queen’s death is something we might never see again. And the tributes have really been something.

Any in particular?
Our former PM Malcolm Turnbull – a big Republican – was moved to tears talking about her death, saying “we are all Elizabethans”. US President Joe Biden said the Queen “defined an era”, and India’s PM Narendra Modi called her “the stalwart of our times”.

She had a pretty extraordinary life…
She did – and it’s all the more extraordinary because she was never meant to be the monarch.

Remind me about that…
So Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of King George V’s 2nd son – so she was basically the equivalent of Archie, Prince Harry’s first-born. But her Uncle Edward decided to give up the throne in 1936 to marry American divorceé Wallis Simpson.

Why was that?
Because the British monarch is also the head of the Church of England, which at the time wouldn’t allow a monarch to marry someone who’d been twice divorced. After Edward abdicated the throne, Elizabeth’s dad George became king, and she became the heir apparent. She became Queen in 1952 after his death, when she was 25yo.

And she ruled for the next 70 years…
And even those who aren’t massive royal family fans have noted her dedication to public service. She’s been the patron of hundreds of charities, a counsellor to 15 British PMs and the UK’s chief diplomat for over 7 decades.

So it wasn’t all just ribbon cutting?
Not at all. The Queen was also Head of the Commonwealth, which is made up of 56 countries. Only 15 of those – including Canada, New Zealand and Australia – still have the British monarch as their head of state. So it’s pretty extraordinary the Queen kept together what she called the “family of nations” through Africa, the Pacific and Asia long after most of them cut formal ties with the monarchy.

And she was good at it…
Yep, she wielded diplomatic power like nobody’s business. One notable story was from 1961 – she visited Ghana when it was feared to be falling under Soviet influence, and she was pictured dancing with the Ghanaian President at a time when there was still racial segregation in the US.

Her outfits were iconic, too…
She certainly wasn’t a slave to trends, but she knew how to make a statement. With her consistency of dress, including the handbag, brooches, and hat – often in one bold colour – well, everybody knew that was the Queen. And all her state visits were carefully crafted with fashion nods to the host country.

That’s one tough act for King Charles to follow…
Let’s just say it’s unlikely he’ll be engaging in fashion diplomacy like his mum.

And unlike his mother, he’s assuming the throne a bit later in his life…
Yep – he’s 73yo. One of the hard facts of hereditary succession is your fate is determined by the lifespan of your parent. And we know the Queen had robustly good health until the end, and that’s made Charles the oldest sovereign to come to the throne.

I feel like I know way too much about his private life…
Us too… But to recap, he received quite a bit of bad press after it was revealed he was having an affair with his now-wife Camilla while he was married to Princess Diana.

And pretty much everyone sided with Princess Di?
They did, and Charles and Camilla were pretty unpopular in Britain for quite a while. But they’ve been married now for 17 years, and their public image has gradually been repaired over that time.

Tell me a bit about Charles…
He’s always been seen as a bit kooky. But the things people used to mock him about – like his love of organic farming and commitment to sustainability – are now being praised as visionary. He was a passionate environmentalist before it was cool.

Is that something that’s likely to continue now he’s king?
Leaders like US President Joe Biden and our PM Anthony Albanese have said they hope that’s the case, but we’ll likely find out later down the track. And first-in-line Prince William is a bit of a green thumb too – he launched the Earthshot prize with Sir David Attenborough a couple of years ago. That’s all about inspiring big innovations to help save the planet.

Aren’t monarchs supposed to be apolitical?
That’s the tradition – and Queen Elizabeth famously stayed out of politics. Some people, like our Opposition leader Peter Dutton, think it’s inappropriate and dangerous for a monarch to have a political voice. But Albanese says climate change isn’t a political issue but a question of our very survival.

Speaking of tricky issues, the monarchy has some to navigate…
Yep – many Commonwealth countries are already having the conversation about becoming a republic.

Like who?
Barbados, for one. Charles was there last year when it happened, and William and Kate got a mixed reception in Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas in March. They had to acknowledge the appalling history of slavery and atrocities committed under British rule.

So those countries are already cutting ties?
They are certainly on the path. On the other side, Canada and New Zealand appear to be in no great rush. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s praise of the Queen was some of the most enthusiastic from a world leader, and Kiwi PM Jacinda Ardern said she expected New Zealand’s relationship with the UK to only deepen under King Charles.

Where does Australia sit on the republic idea?
PM Albanese has made it clear now is not the time to revisit the republic debate here. It’s Labor policy to have an Australian head of state, but he’s ruled out holding a referendum in his first term of office. And there’s already a vote on the cards in Oz – Albanese says his first priority was to get an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

But a referendum could happen somewhere down the line?
It could, but it isn’t actually a shoo-in – the last Aussie referendum on the matter back in 1999 returned a resounding ‘no’ vote, so Albanese recognises the country’s ties to the monarchy run deep. If Labor’s still in power after the next election, insiders say they’d only proceed if the national mood is on their side.

So I’m guessing there’s no appetite in the UK for things changing anytime soon?
Since the Queen died, it’s become clear that while Charles has never been super popular, there’s still enormous respect for the institution and how much it contributes to Britain’s national identity and pride. So getting rid of the royals is unlikely anytime soon.

And the coronation will be a big deal…
It sure will – that’s still months away, but the official crowning of King Charles will be a huge event in the UK – and here in Oz.

Squiz recommends:
The Queen’s handbag symbolism

The Queen’s best outfits

The Age’s Tony Wright gives us an insight into how Queen Consort Camilla has won over hearts and minds after being a much-loathed figure in the UK and abroad.

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