The Platinum Jubilee is a historic moment to pay our respects to our longest-serving monarch. We look back at the Queen’s reign and her time in Kent.
On a bright but chilly November day almost three years ago, the Queen made her latest visit to Kent. With her wearing a striking purple coat and matching hat, the power of her appeal to the public she has tirelessly served for the last 70 years was clear to see.
As she was driven to the Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) Centenary Village in Aylesford she was greeted by more than 1,000 schoolchildren, all excitedly waving Union Jack flags. They were, needless to say, joined by hundreds of other well-wishers keen to catch a glimpse of the then 93 year old making her first visit to the county for three years.
She could, of course, be forgiven for not making more frequent trips as her age finally caught up with her.
But Kent is a county she has always held close to her heart – the home of a family friend she would frequently come down to visit, away from the glare of publicity – and one to which she was certainly no stranger.
From being the guest of honour at the Kent County Show in Detling, near Maidstone, to regular visits to troops stationed at barracks in Maidstone, Medway and Canterbury and trips to the likes of Folkestone, Ashford and Margate, there are few parts of the county which have not enjoyed her magic touch.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the people of Kent will be celebrating her Platinum Jubilee with gusto this month – and remembering a remarkable reign of a public figure who, above all others, has united the nation and won its relentless love and respect.
Street parties are planned, bunting will be hung, and there will be many a glass of bubbly raised in her honour.
From visits to the county when she was just a princess, she has been the hardest working royal – constantly touring home and abroad, championing the nation overseas and bringing sunshine into the lives of those who lived here.
While born into the upper echelons of royalty, in her earliest years few entertained the idea that she would become the monarch – let alone the longest-serving in history.
With the princess being the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, her father’s brother, Edward, was next in line to the throne when she was born in 1926.
When George V died, Edward VIII took his place in 1936. But his ascendency to the throne swiftly brought about a constitutional crisis after his insistence on marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
Unable to be given permission to marry – it would go against the monarch’s position as head of the Church of England – he was forced to abdicate less than a year after his father’s death. Such a shockwave suddenly meant Elizabeth’s father took over the throne as George VI.
For Elizabeth it meant a significant change in her life plans. The assumption had been that when Edward VIII became king he would have children of his own – who would have then become the next in line to the throne. Instead, his decision to step down meant that Elizabeth became the heir apparent.
When her beloved father died, at the age of 56 in 1952, the young princess, at just 25, became Queen and head of the Commonwealth. It was an almighty position to find herself in but one which, all are agreed, she has always handled with the deftest of touches; bringing a sense of dignity and openness to an institution many found themselves often unable to relate to.
She was the glamorous monarch hailed around the world – and the globe has watched her guide the nation and her family through the highs and lows of the last seven decades.
But in her quieter moments she would often travel to Kent, unannounced, to visit one of the Windsors’ closest confidantes.
Patricia Knatchbull, the Queen’s third cousin, lived in Mersham, just outside Ashford. She was better known simply as Lady Brabourne.
Her father was Lord Mountbatten, killed when an IRA bomb blew up in a fishing boat he was travelling on in 1979. Patricia was also on board at the time of the tragedy. Her son, Nicholas, then just 14, was also among the dead. She was left badly injured.
Along with her husband John Knatchbull – a celebrated TV and film producer – she would often host the likes of Her Majesty, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
Villagers would be unaware of the manor house’s very special guests, bringing them some treasured private moments away from prying eyes and surrounded by those they most trusted.
In 1987, almost the entire family (Princess Diana was notable by her absence) turned out in Ashford to attend the wedding of Lady Brabourne’s daughter, Lady Amanda Knatchbull, at the church in the town centre. Crowds lined the route as family and friends headed back to Mersham to celebrate the newlyweds.
We can but hope the Queen will one day return to the county she clearly cherishes – although her limited mobility has seen her confined to the royal palaces for many months now.
The loss of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, last year was a painful one. The pair had been married since 1947 and had supported one another through the decades.
When it was announced her public appearances during her Platinum Jubilee would be limited, it became apparent to all that the Queen’s health was beginning to restrict her activities – for almost the first time during her long reign.
At 96, she is still remarkably active, however, as demonstrated by her appearances at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and the opening of the Elizabeth Line last month.
She continues to discuss affairs of state with the Prime Minister each week, and she conducts meetings online or in her offices. It is a testament to her resilience and determination to continue to serve the nation that even at her age the Queen remains determined to fulfil as many duties as her health allows – albeit often away from the public gaze.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is a quite remarkable moment in our history. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate the life of a woman who we have all grown up with, who is so familiar to young and old alike, and whom we all hope will continue to reign over us for years to come.
Top Pic: NASA/Bill Ingalls