My Lords, Nelson Mandela once said:
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
I was sorry to hear that the Queen died yesterday. She was an extraordinary woman who fulfilled her destiny with dedication, dignity and grace, using her power behind the scenes as a cohesive force, bringing people across the globe together with an overall perspective of future unity. In challenging times she was a rock, which our Prime Minister also mentioned yesterday in her speech. Today marks the end of an enormously long Elizabethan era.
Like me, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was born into a world where the British monarch was Emperor of India, but it fell to her, coming to the Throne five years later, to embody that transition to a post-imperial world, and there can be no greater tribute to her than the heartfelt outpouring of love and gratitude expressed by the leaders of Commonwealth countries all over the world since Her Majesty passed away on Thursday. The transition has been different for every country, but it was the Queen’s unfailing spirit of service and humility that allowed even the most painful of memories not to stand in the way of forging a new relationship.
I had the honour to meet Her Majesty twice, once at the opening of the GLA building—I have a beautiful photograph of myself with her—and, on another occasion, at the opening of Barnardo’s new offices as I am the vice-president of Barnardo’s. I was completely taken back as both Her Majesty and the Duchess of Cornwall—now the Queen Consort—wanted to hear about my charity for widows.
In 1997, 50 years after India gained her independence, it was my privilege to organise the British-Indian Golden Jubilee banquet in London, at which King Charles III, then of course the Prince of Wales, quoted the Vedas and expressed his thanks to India for its civilising influence on Britain. It was a moment that symbolised the transformation that had taken place from imperial power and subject nation to the familial ties of equals. The enduring strength of those ties between the world’s fifth and sixth-largest economies was illustrated again yesterday when the Prime Minister of India recalled the Queen’s warmth and kindness.
Many tributes have alluded to the Queen’s greatness. To that, I would add my voice by saying that the greatness of Queen Elizabeth II lay not in harking back to the days of empire or in asserting dominance over others, but in the service and humility that characterised her reign and opened the door to new beginnings.
I pay tribute to her late Majesty for the contribution she has made, which has undoubtedly made the world a better place than it would otherwise have been. It is her legacy that in an increasingly uncertain world offers hope for the future. I know that the Queen’s love for India and for the Commonwealth was fully shared by her eldest son, King Charles III, and that he will seek to build on that legacy. God save the King.