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At the annual State Opening of Parliament, once in a year, the Queen reads out her prime minister’s words, ventriloquising for her government. When the most important foreign leaders arrive for a state visit, the Queen greets them in the country’s name with a smile and a gloved handshake and small-talk, again deliberately designed never to offend.
She speaks with deliberate lack of emphasis or emotion: nobody must be able to hear her own feelings break through. She offers house-room and pays kind attention to people she may privately regard as abominable or merely hideous bores.
The Queen’s mornings begin as they have for most of her life, with BBC radio news, Earl Grey tea, the Racing Post and the Daily Telegraph and, while having breakfast toast with her husband, enjoying the music of her personal bagpiper in the garden.
A discreet, protective staff she calls by their first names come and go; a typed diary sheet of engagements is waiting; soon the first of the boxes of official papers, containing everything from minor appointments to alarming secret service reports, will arrive.
The Queen takes her role as the fount of Anglican respectability very seriously, addressing the General Synod and talking regularly to its leading figures.At the grand dinners she will have overseen the food, flowers and place-settings.Some talk about how she uses polite silence to deflect trouble; and it is very noticeable that when you ask people about their conversations with the Queen, they bubble about her wit and insight – and then tell you exactly (and only) what they said to her. Much the same seems to happen in her weekly audiences with her prime ministers, of whom there have been a dozen to date.Her husband, now 90, still has the gimlet stare and suspicious bearing of a man’s man cast adrift in a world of progressives and wets. He chose to spend his life as ‘Consort, liege and follower’.