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Elizabeth never expected to become Queen
Elizabeth never expected to become Queen

With her eldest daughter, Elizabeth

Continuing her tradition of the 'walkabout'

Her life and legacy

The Queen Mother was, essentially, a family woman. Behind all the pomp and majesty which surrounded her public duties was a contented family life made sadder by the events of later years.

There can be little doubt that the Queen Mother re-invented the idea of an active Royal Family. Her powerful personality brought about many changes including the now-ubiquitous "walkabout".

The ideal of the modern Royal Family only came into its own with Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert. He instilled into his many children a belief that they should serve the nation both individually and as a model family.

Albert's untimely death in 1861 and Victoria's subsequent withdrawal from public life reduced the Royal Family's role to appearances at great state occasions and society functions.

Serving the nation

At the same time, a mass republican movement came into existence, presenting the first real threat to the crown since the Civil War. Subsequent monarchs did their duty but did little to return the Royal Family to the centre of national life.

The Queen Mother viewed things differently. She had never expected to be Queen. The abdication thrust her and her husband, unprepared, onto the national stage.

From the day of her accession as George VI's Queen, she dedicated her life and that of her family to serving the nation and to supporting the shy and retiring King in his onerous duties as sovereign.

Testing times were ahead. World War II brought the terrors of the Blitz to Britain also saw the King and Queen bringing comfort to those left homeless, and worse, by the Luftwaffe's bombs.

The Royal Family, including the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, stayed in London.

Many others had taken the easy option and moved to safety in the country, even to Canada, but the then Queen sat out the war in the front line with her people. And the people did not forget.

A special touch

With the death of her husband in 1952 and the coronation of her daughter a year later many would have expected the Queen Mother to take a back seat. But she continued to work at her royal duties.

Through more than 40 foreign tours, numerous walkabouts and countless speeches, the Queen Mother brought her special touch to thousands of people.

And she supported her daughter just as she had supported her husband. Throughout her reign, the Queen was in almost daily touch with the Queen Mother.

As the BBC's former court correspondent, the late Godfrey Talbot, put it, "the telephone lines between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House must have been hot."

The Queen Mother's easy-going manner masked a strong will and a real understanding of what the Royal Family should, and should not, be. She was patron of more than 350 organisations and she took and active interest in each one.

She believed that, if the people were to remain loyal to the Royal Family, the family should commit itself to the people. Never before had the Royal Family undertaken so many diverse commitments.

Busy grandmother

As a grandmother, the Queen Mother played an active role, looking after her grandchildren when the Queen was away on official business.

She was particularly close to the Prince of Wales and the two were often seen at royal engagements in her later years.

The Queen Mother's relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales, was altogether more complex. Initially the two enjoyed good relations. The old Queen took the young princess, whose own position as an outsider in the Royal Family mirrored hers, under her wing.

Following Charles and Diana's divorce, the friendship cooled considerably. Diana went to her grave believing the Queen Mother to be the personification of the forces ranged against her.

The Queen Mother was dismayed by the breakdown of four royal marriages, but dealt with this in her own way choosing, on one occasion, not to remember that Princess Margaret had been divorced.

Regal silence

The Queen Mother famously remained publicly silent on all of this, as she did on every matter. Indeed, her final, possibly only, press conference took place just before her marriage in 1923.

Her grandchildren, especially the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal, work hard for many organisations, most notably the Prince's Trust and Save the Children.

Unlike their grandmother, they are unconcerned about speaking out. The Prince of Wales has definite views on matters ranging from the environment to architecture and is no stranger to controversy.

The Queen Mother's advice and guidance helped the Royal Family though difficult and joyous times. Though it is currently undergoing a series of radical changes and cannot claim to command the vast popular support of earlier years, the present Royal Family owes a great deal to the woman who, in essence created it.

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