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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: Mr Sheldon’s Reflections

Wednesday 14 September 2022

In Chapel on Monday 12 September, Mr Sheldon, Senior Deputy Head, offered a very moving and personal reflection on the passing of Her Majesty the Queen.

Just outside this building is a place that I will now always remember – for that was where I was when I heard that The Queen had died. I am sure that you will have seen and heard a great deal about Her late Majesty since Thursday, but I hope that you might just indulge me briefly to explain why I think we will not see her like again.

Over 90% of the world’s population had been born during her reign, and it was tempting to think that she might go on forever – certainly until Prince Philip died last year. She was a constant in all of our lives whilst the world changed ever more rapidly. When she ascended the throne, Mount Everest had not been climbed, we had not ventured into space, we had not joined the EEC and left the EU, there was no social media, of course, and no concept of climate change. The second Elizabethan age spanned all of this, and much, much more.

In the UK, the monarch is the person by whom all of our laws are signed, in whose name our justice is dispensed, and to whom every member of our armed service swear allegiance, even unto their death. The Queen is on every banknote and coin, and every postage stamp. She was the UK itself: she embodied our state, she enabled its function and she did so through service. Astonishingly, she was, according to Boris Johnson, the very last surviving person to have served in uniform during the Second World War.

WOMEN AT WAR 1939 - 1945 (TR 2835) Auxiliary Territorial Service: Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing overalls and standing in front of an L-plated truck. In the background is a medical lorry. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

She worked so hard, for our parents and grandparents, for us, and for those yet to come. It’s extraordinary that immediately we have our new King, carrying out his duty, just as she did, and it’s largely because she showed what should be done as a constitutional monarch, and how to do it, that we should feel reassured that the great change that is now happening will quite simply work.

The UK’s flags are rightly at half-mast. But so are the Commonwealth’s. So are the EU’s. So are the USA’s. Tributes have been lit on the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building and the Matterhorn. The Queen was the face of the UK abroad, and it is clear that her ability to charm was incredible. She wielded none of her constitutional powers without the government’s request, and yet because she was knowledgeable and interested, kind and humorous, her influence was immense. I think this is why I had come to think of her as the nation’s grandma. The worldwide response to her death suggests that this fondness was shared across the globe. I challenge you to think of a single other person for whom this respect and love was so universal. And this is why I, and we, feel a sense of loss, though most of us did not know her at all.

In a school in which we attempt to lead you to the skills required to take on leadership roles in whatever form your world takes, The Queen provided to you the ultimate role-model. You would do well to study her form of servant leadership and to honour her memory by mimicking it. We would all do well to do this.

I was doing ok on Thursday evening with a slightly weird, slightly lost-sheep-feeling, right up until I was reminded of the beautiful Paddington sketch created to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee. It was funny in June, and it’s poignant and heartwarming now. Excuse me, then, as I end with Paddington’s own words. Thank you, Ma’am, for everything.