Veronica Zundel shares her memory of seeing the Queen up close, and provides a unique take on Her Majesty’s years on the throne

Not being a candidate for any honours, or even a Buckingham Palace garden party, I only met the Queen once, and even then ‘met’ is an exaggeration – I stood about ten feet away from her but didn’t actually speak to her.

She had come to open the North Lambeth Day Centre for the Homeless in the crypt of my church in Waterloo. Perhaps aiming to dress down for the occasion, she wore a faded lavender Crimplene outfit that looked as though it had gone through the launderette too many times.

Her hair and make-up, however, were immaculate, as always, and she stayed half an hour longer than scheduled, examining the clients’ art and craft work and chatting to them – being as polite, in fact, as she would have been to an earl or duke (indeed their stories were probably more interesting).


Destined for the throne

Whatever you think about the monarchy (and the Bible has a very ambivalent attitude to kings), it cannot be denied that in Elizabeth II we have had a head of state who took her duties extremely seriously and fulfilled them with a dedication born of principle and faith.

We ordinary Christians speak of giving our lives to God, but she knew from the moment her father became king that her life direction was determined for her and that she had no choice in the matter. How soon did she realise, as a child, that this was her unavoidable destiny?

She knew how much the role had cost her father, and she knew how its demands had been too much for her uncle ‘David’ (Edward VIII) in his choice between duty and personal fulfilment.

We may criticise the institution of monarchy, may tut at royal scandals (it’s the best soap opera we’ve got!), but I am tempted to echo my husband’s opinion that: “It’s not the greatest idea, but it appears to work.” It works, that is, when you have a monarch who is as devoted to her role, strange and outmoded though it may be, as Queen Elizabeth was to hers.


What is a monarch, anyway? Stripped of all the powers that for millennia allowed a monarch to rule without question, the role of a constitutional monarch bears little resemblance today to the autocratic rulers of the past. Yet, paradoxically, this may bring our monarch closer to the position of Jesus.

We call him King, yet he lived out that kingship by sacrificing all his power and glory and serving his people to the point of dying a hugely shameful, criminal’s death. He taught that to be Lord and Master involved being the servant of all, taking the least and last place, washing feet rather than receiving obeisance.

On this measure, the Queen – despite retaining all the trappings of power, the ritual and the bling (and great wealth) – followed the master she openly declared she served. Unlike many an elected politician, she knew she was responsible for all her people, not just those who had voted for her.

Arbitrary as a hereditary system is for choosing a head of state, it does have the advantage of no one being able to say: “Well I didn’t vote for her” – because no one did. It also allows the head of state, as she did, to create a culture of service that we can only hope will be followed by our next monarch.

Our female monarchs

And what of her example as a woman? We have had only four queens in our history – five if you count Matilda, whose right to the throne was disputed. None was flawless or infallible, any more than Elizabeth II was. But, reflecting on history, I have to say at least three of them generally did a better job than the men: compare Elizabeth I to her father, for instance!

If nothing else, our late Queen demonstrated that a woman can hold a major public role with dignity and without weakening the institution she serves. It strikes me as ironic that there are still Anglican clergy who object to women in leadership in the Church and yet are happy to swear an oath of allegiance to the titular head of their church – who, for the last 70 years, has been a woman! As a role model, she did, whether by accident or design, a great service to other women called to servant leadership.

As the nation mourns a key national figure – some would say ‘the’ key national figure – surely even the most ardent republican (and I know a few) can acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II’s achievements as a person who filled an often-difficult role with great dignity and principle.

Veronica Zundel is an author and regular contributor to Bible Reading Fellowship’s New Daylight.