YouTube; Instagram; Getty Images; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
by Natalie Finn | Wed., Apr. 22, 2020 6:00 AM
YouTube; Instagram; Getty Images; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
On April 5, Queen Elizabeth II did something she has only had to do so many times over the course of her almost 70-year reign.
She sat down and reassured us that everything was going to be OK.
Well, first and foremost she was reassuring everyone in the United Kingdom and assorted Commonwealth realms (everywhere her royal light touches, if you will)—but nowadays, 21st-century technology being what it is, her audience is really the whole world, a world that right now obviously needs some help with keeping calm and carrying on.
So, if you've ever wondered what it is that Britain's royal family is good for in this day and age... It's this. If now isn't the time for a group of people to shine whose close-to-sole purpose is to listen intently, offer encouragement and instill pride in a wounded nation, then when is?
Happily, the House of Windsor is shining accordingly.
"Now more than ever we are thankful for your leadership and for being an inspiration both in our country and around the world. We are so lucky to have you," David Beckham wrote on Instagram Tuesday in wishing Her Majesty a happy birthday, surely speaking for countless others who appreciate the heartening continuity and familiarity of the queen's reign.
She does an annual Christmas address and makes other remarks for planned events, commemorations, anni horribiles and whatnot, but her April 5 speech from Windsor Castle—where the 94-year-old monarch is riding out the self-isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic with her 98-year-old husband, Prince Philip—marked just the fifth time the queen has made a special televised address to the nation since she ascended the throne in 1952.
The previous times it was determined that the people had to hear from their queen include the onset of the 1991 Gulf War; following the shocking death of Princess Diana in 1997; after the death of her own mother in 2002; and in 2012 to mark her Diamond Jubilee—the only joyous occasion of the bunch.
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"I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge," the queen, sporting an emerald-green dress and speaking from the history-laden White Drawing Room in Windsor Castle, told the audience she knew was out there, "and those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any, that the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet, good-humored resolve, and of fellow feeling still characterize this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future."
Coming of age during World War II—she gave her first radio speech at 14 during the Blitz, to reassure children across the U.K. that they were going to make it through, together—the queen would know about generational strength, hence her determination to instill a certain stoicism in her own descendants.
Like many storied institutions, leadership comes from the top down in the royal family, but the end result is only as effective as those trusted to carry out the mission.
Despite setting a good example early on by holding up his hands in a prayerful gesture of thanks rather than continue with traditional handshakes or pats on the back (back when people were still meeting face to face), Prince Charles ended up contracting COVID-19 in March. He and wife Camilla retreated to Birkhall, their estate in Scotland, but kept away from each other for another for a proscribed number of days to ensure Camilla hadn't been infected.
The Prince of Wales has since recovered and he and the Duchess of Cornwall sweetly reunited in time for their 15th wedding anniversary on April 9. They've continued to keep in touch with the public through Zoom chats and social media.
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“It is symbolic of the selfless care and devoted service taking place in innumerable settings, with countless individuals, throughout the United Kingdom.” . The Prince of Wales today opened the new @nhsnightingalelondon hospital via video link from his home in Scotland. 📱 Just 10 days after the start of construction at @excellondon, the new @nhsenglandldn hospital is now ready to support patients with coronavirus in London. 🏥 Take a look at our Instagram story for more. . 📷 Clarence House / PA
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"A message of honesty, reassurance and solidarity. Much needed during these difficult times," read one of the appreciative comments on the Prince of Wales' first health update posted to the Clarence House Instagram account. "Very happy to hear you're feeling better and our thanks to you and your family for the continued support you provide to charitable foundations and British people around the world."
"Glad to see our future King looking so well," read another.
See, when they're popular, they're really, really popular. And every time he's been in front of his webcam, whether he was remotely speaking at the opening of temporary hospitals in London and Wales to accommodate coronavirus patients or addressing the Sikh community in Punjabi for the holiday of Vaisakhi, Charles is always clad in a suit and tie —with matching pocket square—because royals don't do sweats.
The younger ones do wear jeans and jumpers, though, as Prince William and Kate Middleton—the glue now holding the royals' future relevancy together—have when doing their video chats from their Anmer Hall estate in Norfolk, where they're homeschooling Prince George and Princess Charlotte and planning to celebrate Prince Louis' 2nd birthday on Thursday. (Charlotte will be 5 next weekend and, who knows, maybe George will be marking the big 0-7 in June still in the countryside as well.)
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Like his father, William also virtually helped open a brand-new hospital set up by the National Health Service expressly to care for coronavirus patients, this one in Birmingham, England, and he and Kate have been in regular contact with various charities and patronages. They even gave a rare joint interview to the BBC to discuss the mental health campaign Every Mind Matters (contact info is in the Kensington Royal bio), during which they also lavished health care and other front-line (food service, mail, deliveries, drivers, sanitation, etc.) workers with well-deserved praise.
Asked if they thought what the world is going through right now would "fundamentally change who we are," Kate replied, "Absolutely... I think it's all going to drastically change how we all value and see our front-line workers. They're doing an extraordinary job."
Which is why George, Charlotte and Louis gave their own round of applause to everyone out there who's risking their own health and safety in order to keep this world turning. Their little hands clapping join what has become a daily ritual in many communities around the globe as a show of appreciation for that front line.
Talking to the BBC, William also called 99-year-old World War II veteran Tom Moore, who made headlines everywhere after raising £20 million in donations for the NHS by doing 100 laps around his garden with the aid of his walker, an "absolute legend." When he was informed of the royal compliment, Tom said, "That I think is absolutely amazing, that my super prince can say something like that."
Though they're not exactly providing virtual house tours yet, fans are enjoying these little glimpses of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at home—and this may be the most unvarnished (albeit still poised) version of the couple the public has ever seen.
During a video call on Easter with teachers, staff and students at Casterton Primary Academy, where employees have rallied to continue to provide care for the kids of front-line workers, Kate and William (Zoom name "DOC") were grinning ear to ear as they chatted with the children. "This was a chance, really, to see William and Kate and how they are with other children, and there were some really sweet moments," observed royal correspondent Omid Scobie on his Heir Pod podcast. "They joked about Easter candy, and I think it just was a chance to see William and Kate at work in perhaps probably the most sort of up close and personal way we ever have."
But while the Britain-bound members of the royal family are doing what they can from home—which, if you heard the rapturous reception to the queen's speech on both sides of the Atlantic, her words filling the void where national political leadership should be in times of crisis, is actually a lot—the wayward royals out in America are also stepping up.
Free to make unannounced appearances so long as they've got the security to back it up, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry—they're still royals, they count—went out and delivered food to people's homes in Los Angeles for Project Angel Food, which since 1989 has been providing meals to homebound people with illnesses that make them unable to to shop or cook for themselves.
"Meghan and Harry were looking to be of service on Easter and Meghan was talking to her mother, who told her Project Angel Food needs help," the nonprofit's executive director, Richard Ayoub, told E! News. "She said, 'Yes, I would love to do it.' They contacted us and came in and we gave them a tour of the kitchen. They were very engaged with everyone they met and asked questions. They were completely down to earth and interested in helping our more vulnerable clients, people who have compromised immune systems who are the most prone to getting the coronavirus."
"They were both nice and very down-to-earth people," Dan Tyrell, who got a delivery from the couple, told Wehoville. "They had masks on, and they were dressed down with jeans, but very nice jeans. I thought that tall red-headed guy looked pretty familiar. Then I saw the large black SUVs with the security guards behind them."
Meghan and Harry—who as part of their agreement in stepping down as working royals are no longer using "royal" or their HRH and Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles as part of their philanthropic or business ventures—also announced that they'd be donating $112,000 in profits from the BBC televising their 2018 wedding to the food bank Feeding Britain.
While the coronavirus pandemic and advisories from governors of states including California and New York to stay home as much as was humanly possible put an end to any and all fanfare that may have accompanied the launch of the couple's new Archewell foundation, to their credit (well, not according to members of the media who criticized them for inappropriate timing after they informed four particularly pernicious British tabloids that they would no longer engage with them) they've jumped right into doing the bit that they can while other endeavors (such as ones that might require travel) are on hold.
And though no one is going to mistake them for regular people anytime soon (though wearing masks does help with that), Harry and Meghan are two people who understand, if not financial hardship, then at least what being existentially trapped feels like. They hit restart on their life together with a big move, first to Canada and then to Meghan's hometown of L.A., and are only now working their way out of the one-foot-in, one-foot-out limbo they'd been navigating for months.
"I think it's certainly strange times—everyone is experiencing the same thing in a very unique way," Harry said on a video chat over Easter weekend on behalf of Britain's WellChild charity (he's been a patron since 2007), which connected the prince (he's still a prince, after all, just not one on the queen's payroll anymore) with several parents who are caring at home for children with complex medical issues. "But the longer this goes on for, I imagine the harder it is for each and every one of you."
Wherever possible, Harry said, it's important to enjoy the good moments in the moment—because he understands that everything can turn upside down a moment later.
"If morale is up, if you wake up in the morning and go, 'Right, new day, got my whole family here, what are we going to do?' Of course," Harry continued, "there's that fear of what might happen, but there's so much that's out of our control and all of a sudden we've realized how small we are in the grand scheme of things."
Minus the photo ops, what the royals—the full-timers in Britain and the independent contractors out in L.A.—are doing from the confines of their homes isn't actually all that different from what they're normally asked to do, which is put on an unflaggingly brave face, stay positive and remind people that they have it in them to make it through.
It's what they do, what the people rely on them for. And when the royal family delivers, it's always good for morale.