The Queen has long lived by the motto that she needs to be seen to be believed, and today she let it be known that she is fit and well after a worrying illness by striding in front of photographers onto a train taking her back to London from the county of Norfolk, where her country retreat, Sandringham, is located, in a vibrant green coat.
The official pitch was that the Queen was simply bringing to an end her extended Christmas holiday (her stay in the country was lengthened to allow her to completely recover from what the palace repeatedly described as “a heavy cold”) but there was a certain circle-squaring symbolism—of which Her Majesty is unlikely to have been unaware—in her choice of a railway station attended by snappers to make the unilateral declaration that she is back.
After all, the national panic about her health was set off when, a few days before Christmas, the Queen failed to show at the last minute for her train journey to Sandringham at a London railway station packed with press photographers.
The rail journey to Sandringham is an established royal tradition, with the resulting photographs a time-honored cornerstone of Fleet Street’s Christmas coverage. The cancellation was badly handled, with a three-hour information vacuum causing many to fear the worse.
The Queen subsequently flew to Sandringham by helicopter the following day, but that did little to persuade many reporters on the royal beat—including this one—that 2016 did not have one more big scalp to claim.
Fears for the Queen’s health were compounded when the ‘heavy cold’ saw her forced to cancel her Christmas Day church attendance, for the first time in memory. On December 30, Buckingham Palace was forced to deny rumors—spawned online—that she had died. The Queen next failed to appear at church on New Year’s Day due to her illness.
Today, the dark whispers of the past few weeks concerning the Queen’s health were consigned to history as she clambered unaided aboard the train and settled back in her seat to read the newspaper as the locomotive chugged its way to the capital, where the Queen will now be based for the next few months as she resumes a full schedule of engagements and activities.
The journey to London came the day after one of the most sensitive days in the Queen’s royal calendar, February 6, the anniversary of the Queen’s father’s death 65 years ago. Sometimes referred to as Accession Day, the Queen likes to spend the day privately.
While the event is often noted in somewhat celebratory terms—the accolades were more prominent than usual this year, as the day marked the Queen’s Pearl (65th) anniversary on the throne—for her it remains simply the day her father died, and there is nothing for her to rejoice in.
George VI died very young – he was just 56 when he perished from lung cancer – but it is clear from today’s events that the Queen must be considered increasingly likely to live for many years hence. Her mother, let us not forget, was 101 at her death.
Prince Charles, now 68, has been the heir apparent for longer than any royal heir in history. On the basis of today’s bravura performance by his mother, he may be waiting a while yet to take the reins of power.