For an unrelated reason, I was fortunate to be in London to witness a set of extraordinary festivities commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne of England. Although the queen had been traveling the globe for months to Commonwealth nations hosting Golden Jubilee events in her name, the celebrations peaked on June 4, 2002, with a program on the Mall in London that drew over a million well-wishers from around Britain and the world. The marked adulation surprised many in the national press who’d predicted the Jubilee would be a fizzle, demonstrating the modern-day irrelevance of the British monarchy in general and of Her Royal Highness in particular.
The opposite proved to be the case. In the several weeks’ run-up to June 4, throngs within the United Kingdom flocked to dedications, parades, concerts, and special proceedings honoring the queen, which she honored in turn with her presence. Especially coveted were invitations to small parties where it was sometimes possible to be addressed personally by the queen in a receiving line.
Of course, the opportunity to meet Elizabeth II under any circumstances would be considered exceptional; but the chance to meet her amid the pomp and pageantry of the Golden Jubilee added even more significance to such occasions, which were widely reported by the media. One report stood out from all the others for me. A young woman moving through a reception line at one of the small fêtes experienced the horror of hearing the cell phone in her purse begin to ring just as she met the queen. Flustered and frozen with embarrassment as her phone pealed insistently, she stared helplessly into the royal eyes that had become fixed on her bag. Finally, Elizabeth leaned forward and advised, “You should answer that, dear. It might be someone important.”