There is no sign that she is heading for the gilded doors, and those close to her dismiss any suggestion of the queen as a quitter, arguing that she will never go the way of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Yet, as the queen and her 92-year-old husband, Prince Philip, confront health issues and with a third direct heir on the way, chatter about a royal retirement has rarely been louder.
“Will the Queen abdicate?” Britain’s Guardian newspaper asked with casual bluntness after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands called it a day following 33 years on the throne. The paper went on to wonder whether, after “years of smiling and waving and keeping shtoom while gaffes abound around her,” is it time for Queen Elizabeth to finally “relax with the corgis?”
With the British monarch’s great-grandchild due any day now, London-based YouGov published a poll last month showing that those who wanted the queen to serve for life stood at 60 percent. Although up from a poll in May, it was down four percentage points compared with one taken in March about the time the queen was briefly hospitalized with a stomach infection and had to cancel a number of official engagements.
Even Lord John Prescott, a former member of the Privy Council, which advises the monarch, penned an opinion piece in the Sunday Mirror, ostensibly about a “friend” who felt that the queen was “overburdening herself” and deserved “to break convention and consider enjoying a long and fulfilling retirement.”
By at least one measure — international travel — the queen is unquestionably slowing down. Eyebrows arched across Britain in May when Buckingham Palace announced that she would, for the first time in 40 years, skip her biennial trip abroad to address leaders of her far-flung realms, including Australia and Canada. It would please Her Majesty to instead send her son, Prince Charles — the longest-waiting monarch-to-be in British history.
Royal biographer Robert Lacey said he found it hard to believe that the queen would retire, particularly while her husband, now recovering from an abdominal operation, is alive. And yet, Lacey noted, the royal lineup of the queen, Charles, Prince William and baby “isn’t just statistical.”
“It really increases the likelihood that the queen will do what was once thought unthinkable and abdicate and step down,” he said. “To be cynical about it, I can see demands growing for it, you know, ‘Give Charles a chance,’ that sort of thing.”
For all the talk of retirement, however, there is no doubting the queen’s popularity.
Celebrity of rare decorum
The public questions after her seemingly cold response to the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, are a distant memory. Instead, the queen is seen here as a constant in a fast-changing world, a celebrity of rare decorum in an age of reality show trash. In her youth, she stood as symbol of the stalwart British spirit in the aftermath of World War II. And now, in her winter, many here say, she is setting an example by balancing public duty and an aging body to surprisingly robust effect.