My life has been guided by the belief that we enter and exit this world as equals, with equal rights and responsibilities, and should earn any respect or privilege we enjoy in between through our own behaviours, rather than an accident of birth. In principle, I am a republican. And yet, over the years, I developed an enduring respect, perhaps even love, for our late Queen; for her constancy, dignity, and unstinting, selfless service to what she believed to be right, regardless of its popularity. In recent years, when “patriotism” has been co-opted by some politicians thriving on unpatriotic bigotry and division, I have actually found myself wishing that she had more power and was less constrained in using it.
I twice had lunch with Queen Elizabeth (I was told she “liked to keep in touch”). The last time, at Buckingham Palace, I marvelled at her modesty, easy humility – but above all, her selfless commitment to service. By the time she spoke to me, she was clearly exhausted, but still managed to hold up her end of the conversation and show interest in my potatoes. Good governance is seldom delivered by power concentrated in one set of hands, as seems to be increasingly the case in the UK; perhaps there is virtue in the restraint of power and egos offered by the monarchy, although Royal Assent to a law has not been refused since Queen Anne in 1708.
The Prince of Wales, now our King, visited Riverford before tasking the team at his own organic farm, Highgrove, with creating something similar. Like his mother, he was a master at putting people at ease; when approached by our oilskin-clad, machete-wielding cauliflower pickers, security closed in – only to be waved away by the impeccably suited prince. He proceeded to easily win over our team (all avowed republicans). It remains to be seen if he can match his mother’s service in office, but I, for one, am glad to have an environmentalist on the throne.
I remain a republican, but given that I respect our democracy and am in the minority, I can’t think of anyone I would rather see my taxes supporting than our late Queen Elizabeth II. She was an extraordinary woman who, by her personal example, made the royal institution tolerable, even to a few republicans.
Autumn’s edition of Wicked Leeks magazine, a cost-of-living special plus an exclusive interview with Vandana Shiva, is out now. To order your copy, click here or it will also be available online as a digital issue.