This article appeared in the September 13, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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‘God Save the Queen’: A Monitor editor looks back on a memorable anthem

Jerome Delay/AP/File
Spectators weep in the crowd along London's Whitehall on Sept. 6, 1997, during the funeral ceremony for Diana, Princess of Wales.
Peter Ford
International News editor

I grew up in a military family – my father was an officer in the British Royal Air Force – where the level of patriotism ran pretty high. And that included leaping to attention, my thumbs aligned with my trouser seams, at the first notes of “God Save the Queen,” the national anthem.

Those notes sounded often in my youth – at the end of every cinema program, for example – and they are still heard each night as BBC Radio goes off the air, or whenever an important soccer match gets underway, or when the monarch addresses the nation on television. In public, as a matter of course, people stand.

But, as Britain mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth II, one rendition sticks in my memory.

It was Sept. 6, 1997. Diana, Princess of Wales, had died a week earlier. The queen was on holiday in Scotland at the time and stayed there, out of sight, while London exploded into a frenzy of mourning.

“Show us you care!” screamed a Daily Express headline. There was no response.

The queen’s apparent indifference to the death of the “people’s princess” cost her dearly with the British public. Each day of her absence, the grumbling grew louder.

Until the day of Diana’s funeral, on Saturday, Sept. 6. I joined a crowd several tens of thousands strong in Hyde Park, all sitting on the ground and watching the ceremony on giant screens.

And then, the moment arrived. The first notes of “God Save the Queen” rang out. Automatically, I jumped to my feet. But then I realized: Nobody else had got up. Nobody. For several bars, lasting perhaps 10 seconds, the entire crowd remained seated. It was unthinkable – the ultimate act of disrespect, if not outright republicanism.

You could feel the astonishment, like an electric charge. And then, one by one, people rose to their feet. The mood of revolt dissipated. Queen Elizabeth had survived the lowest moment of her reign.

I only wish I could have been at the opening of the London Olympics in 2012, when she pretended to parachute out of a helicopter into the stadium with James Bond. People jumped to their feet with enthusiasm then.

This article appeared in the September 13, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/13 edition
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