My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount. So much has already been said this afternoon, but at a time of grief it is better for us all to say something. In his message yesterday, our new King said that he and his family would draw comfort from all the sentiments of loss, mourning and gratitude that people would express in the coming days. We have heard many fantastic and moving speeches and it has been a privilege to be part of your Lordships’ House today to listen to them.
I will offer three brief thoughts. First, as has been mentioned and as the noble Viscount just captured in his tribute, the Queen’s last service was to invite her 15th Prime Minister to form a Government. Her face in that picture was still innately curious. To have that level of curiosity at the age of 96, after everything that the Queen had seen, was truly remarkable. Her curiosity was also captured, as we heard earlier, in that very simple question to those City financiers after the 2008 financial crash: “Why did no one else see that this was going to happen?” What a good question that she asked on behalf of so many of her subjects.
Secondly, we have heard that, for those who encountered her in the flesh, it was an unforgettable experience. She said that, for those who were just going to catch a glimpse, she deliberately wore bright clothes so that she could not be missed. Whatever we might think of His Majesty’s wardrobe, he is unlikely to wear that rainbow of colours that we got so used to.
As we heard, in 2012 the Queen visited Leicester with the new Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke of Edinburgh. It was a huge honour for both the city and county for that visit to be the first to any city in the Diamond Jubilee year. Of course, there was great excitement, but the tip that I took away, having watched Her Majesty during the lunch, was that it is acceptable to open your handbag, get out your lipstick and put it on after lunch. I have taken that tip and told many people about it; they found it a great insight into what was in her handbag—apart from marmalade sandwiches.
We heard a story from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, of someone encountering the Queen and not being able to speak. In my case, when I was appointed to the Privy Council, I forgot to breathe. As the black spots appeared in my peripheral vision, I suddenly realised that I had stopped breathing as I was so close to my monarch and was observing her in close quarters. We also heard about the kissing of hands. While one is not meant to go into the details of Privy Council experiences, it is fair to say that, however experienced in life you are, that ceremony of kneeling and kissing your monarch’s hand is probably the most agonising kiss that you will ever make in your lifetime.
Thirdly, the Queen was our voice of stability at key moments. We have mentioned her Christmas afternoon broadcasts. Of course, after the death of Princess Diana, when the country needed a moment of stability, she was the one who invoked the phrase:
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”
That is worth remembering today. She was also asked to speak in spring 2020 when the Covid pandemic had struck with such ferocity.
I have no doubt that His Majesty the King will provide that same stability and that our thoughts and support will be with him over the coming days and months as he takes on his new duties. In many ways, we began to see that transition of power when he was at the State Opening of Parliament in this House just a few months ago. As we have heard, all these events will be much more of a shock for everyone at every level of society and everywhere around the globe than most of us would have expected. God save the King.