LOUD WHISPERS: London Bridge

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi   

I remember when Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was made the Prince of Wales in July 1969. I was a little girl then and I remember being fascinated by all the crowds, pomp and pageantry on television that day. I also remember that they gave us special treats at my school in Liverpool. We all grew up being told, ‘He will be King one day’. That was a fact no different from the sky being blue. Yet the years rolled by and ‘One Day’ never seemed to come. Till September 8th 2022.

In August of this year, I was passing through Heathrow Airport when I saw a book with the image of a young Queen Elizabeth II on the cover. It was called ‘The Queen’, written by Andrew Morton. As I read the book, even though a lot of the information was already in the public domain via many sources over the years, long before Netflix decided to produce the popular series ‘The Crown’, I was glad to read a composite and sensitive portrayal of one of those very rare beings who are blessed by God from day one to the very end.

King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II was not meant to be the King. His older brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson an American divorcee. It was a classic tale of giving it all up for love, a decision many claim he eventually regretted but it was too late. This unexpected turn of events placed King George VI on the throne and his first daughter Elizabeth as his heir. The family of George VI was a small and intimate one with Queen Consort Elizabeth and the two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret.

They had not expected to be thrust on to the throne so suddenly. King George was very close to his daughters, and he particularly paid attention to the grooming of Elizabeth as a future monarch. Queen Mary, the widow of King George V and grandmother of Elizabeth II was also an early influence on her life, and emphasized the importance of duty above all things. On her 21st birthday in 1947, Princess Elizabeth gave her famous speech, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service’. If ever there was a declaration faithfully made and kept, this is one to be remembered for generations to come.

Whenever I am asked to share a favourite saying, what comes to mind is, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’. Queen Elizabeth was given so much from day one. Great riches, beauty, love, empire, family, name it, she had it. Yet, like every other human being, she paid a price for it all. The price was service to her people. The pretty young Princess who made the declaration of life-long service on her 21st birthday might not have fully understood what that would entail, but the frail 96-year-old monarch who stood in her cardigan and walking stick to shake hands with her 15th Prime Minister at her summer home in Balmoral Castle two days before her death, certainly did.

As a pan-Africanist and student of History, I cannot romanticize the impact of empire building on the fates of African people and cultures. The lust for Africa’s wealth, territories, human resources, and even weather led to a vicious scramble by Europeans in the 19th Century. The great British Empire was built off the backs of plundered nations. I however grew up singing ‘God Save the Queen’ so I should be forgiven for finding it hard to link the kindly monarch with the horrors of the past which unfortunately still plague us in the present.

Queen Elizabeth made a promise to her people and she kept it. And this is why hundreds and thousands showed up to mourn her, many inexplicably queued for almost 23 hours to pay their respects. How many of our leaders make promises and keep them? How many can we truly count on to serve us with all they have? Sadly, we have so few of them. Perhaps that is why so many grieved the loss of a woman who was almost immortal – she had reigned for so long and she was the only monarch generations knew. She weathered many storms like every human being, and as someone noted last week, ‘her life was one long sermon’.

She stood for stability, unity, peace, patience, discipline, forgiveness and duty, to name a few. Her life should teach us lessons across nations, races and ages. Yes, she was a woman born into great wealth and privilege, but she could have used her position to serve herself and not her people. History is replete with stories of Kings and Queens who indulged in excesses and all kinds of unsavoury activities because they could not be bothered to take their thrones seriously. One of the most moving parts of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was the removal of the Orb, Sceptre and Crown from her coffin.

After they were removed, she was sent on her way to heaven as ‘a simple Christian soul’. Her task was done. Her promises have been kept. Her numerous legacies both physical and metaphorical are secure.

What are our own legacies? It is common to hear people say ‘Oyinbo people have no tradition’. After the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the seamless ascension of King Charles III, I hope we all recognise the sheer folly of that thinking. We are the ones who have been steadily trading away our cultures and tradition. We are the ones who no longer deem it important to remember History, teach it or respect it. We are the ones who no longer know how to perform basic, innocuous communal rituals such as naming our children, performing weddings or choosing our traditional rulers. All these processes have now been declared ‘fetish’, ‘bondage’, and ‘heathen’.

A ritual is ‘a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order’. Before our very eyes, the British performed one ritual after another to declare the death of the Queen, raise the new King to his throne, bind him to his people and his people to him, and celebrate the life of an incredible leader. They even had an interpretation for the beautiful double rainbows that appeared over Buckingham Palace on the day of her death (the Queen had been reunited with her beloved late husband Prince Phillip) and another one that appeared over Windsor Castle on the day of her funeral.

Even the attendance of the very young Great-grandchildren of the Queen at the funeral (Prince George and Princess Charlotte) was orchestrated to send an unambiguous message about the strength of the monarchy and its future. All these ‘rituals’ were revived after 70 long years – it has been that long since a monarch was buried in the United Kingdom.

 Operation ‘London Bridge’ was flawless. It is the code for the planning of activities in the aftermath of the Queen’s passing and her funeral. It has been in place for many years and has been reviewed and refined over time. Memory, tradition, precedence, discipline, professionalism and duty are cornerstones of this operation. Next year, when King Charles III will be coronated, we will be treated to another magnificent display of tradition and memory.

To me ‘London Bridge’ was more than a series of events to mark the passing of the Queen and ascension of the King. It was about a people determined to proudly tell their story to the world through symbols and required rituals, with everyone knowing their role and their place.

I was sad when Queen Elizabeth died. It was the end of an era. I am thankful though that I have learnt from her life and what transpired when she passed. A life of service to others is the price we pay for walking the earth, whether we are born Queens or paupers. We all have a crown, an orb or a sceptre. How are we using them? What promises are we making with them and how many of them are we keeping? One day, they will all be taken away from us as we get sent on our way as ‘simple souls’. We also need to start remembering who we are before we forget. One hundred years from now, what will be left of us and what is supposed to be our communal memory? What do we have in place to remind those who will come after us? What would our own ‘London Bridge’ look like?

Rest in peace Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. In the words of your son King Charles III, ‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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4 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: London Bridge

  1. Maryam Alabi September 24, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    Rest in power queen

  2. Iyanuoluwa Isinkaye September 26, 2022 at 4:58 pm

    May flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.

  3. Rachael September 26, 2022 at 11:17 pm

    Rest on, Queen Elizabeth

  4. Adegbola Opeyemi September 27, 2022 at 12:24 am

    Motivating as always ma’am


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