RICHARD KAY: Queen is honouring a loving agreement with her husband

The poignant promise to Prince Philip behind those radiant smiles: After the lonely grief of her loss, our beaming Queen has heartened the nation. But, as RICHARD KAY reveals, she is simply honouring a loving agreement with her husband

The Queen was at her most relaxed. But it wasn’t the dog-print headscarf that drew the eye as she enjoyed the action at the Royal Windsor Horse Show; it was her smile and the message it conveyed.

Just 11 weeks on from Prince Philip’s funeral, when she looked so vulnerable and forlorn alone in her pew at St George’s Chapel, her face hidden behind a mask, the transformation was striking.

But a look back at the Queen’s public and private engagements since that sorrowing April day reveals a degree of serenity, as though a great burden has been lifted from her.

And in a way it has been. As anyone who has watched the slow, physical decline of a loved one knows, their death can often generate a sense of relief.

April 17: Queen Elizabeth takes her seat during the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

June 11: The Queen attends The Big Lunch Initiative at The Eden Project in Cornwall

June 12: Queen Elizabeth II attends a military parade held by the Household Division in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, to mark her official birthday on June 12

Although the Queen had for some time been preparing herself for the day when Philip would no longer be there, it did not make his loss any easier. But it has made it more bearable.

She does, of course, possess extraordinary reserves of resilience, matched to an unbending sense of duty. 

These are the qualities, together with an ability to shrug off adversity and a strong faith, which have helped her overcome countless setbacks from the moment she was propelled on to the throne following the death of her father when she was only 25.

Even so, her appearance at the G7 summit in Cornwall, exactly eight weeks after Philip’s funeral, was remarkable. It was not just the smiles and warmth she radiated among some of the most bombastic personalities on the planet, but her good humour.

As the leaders of the world’s top economies jostled for the official photographs, she asked, ‘Are you supposed to be enjoying yourselves?’ with a knowing grin.

The subtext was clear: even if they weren’t, she certainly was. And her observation went a long way to show that she had emerged from her period of mourning and was ready to participate fully in the affairs of the kingdom.

June 19: Queen Elizabeth II, wearing her Cartier diamond Palm Leaf Brooch, which belonged to The Queen Mother, attends day five of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse

June 30: Queen Elizabeth II visits the Children’s Wood Project, a community project in Glasgow as part of her traditional trip to Scotland for Holyrood Week

More intriguingly, perhaps it showed she would embrace Philip’s absence even more directly than we had thought. For decades, he was the one who paved the way for her; who broke the ice when she plunged into a gathering knowing all eyes were on her.

He did it with a joke here, a risqué remark there, and she was always grateful for it. At Carbis Bay, she was both warm-up act and main event rolled into one.

Philip’s retirement had allowed her time to adjust to doing things alone. But provided he was at the end of the phone after a trying day, the world’s best-known double act could still function behind the scenes.

Covid changed everything but, crucially, it brought an unexpected dividend in that she and Philip were together for the last 13 months of his life.

The two had often discussed how each would cope without the other at their side, and it boiled down to this: whoever was left should mourn, but not for too long, then enjoy what remained of their life.

The smiles we saw in Cornwall have been replicated on every public appearance since. From that intimate, scaled-down Trooping the Colour ceremony at Windsor Castle to finally making it on to the racetrack for the last day of Royal Ascot.

Her passion for horse racing is no secret but the success of the Queen’s breeding programme meant she had seven runners during Ascot Week and several winners elsewhere.

‘It has all helped to perk her up no end,’ says a racing friend. ‘She misses Prince Philip dreadfully but she was prepared for his passing. Caring deeply for someone whose health is in decline is always exhausting and I am sure it was no different for Her Majesty.’

Nineteen years ago, the deaths of both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret had a similar emancipating effect on the Queen, who was able to embrace her Golden Jubilee celebrations of 2002 with relish.

July 1: Queen Elizabeth II gives a warm smile as she attends the Royal Windsor Horse Show, Windsor

July 2: Queen Elizabeth II seen driving herself in her Range Rover car as she attends day two of the Royal Windsor Horse Show

July 4: The Queen beams as she attends day four of the Royal Windsor Horse Show in Home Park

Freedom from lockdown and the easing of Covid restrictions, after months of virtual engagements, have played their part too. 

Hosting the Prime Minister for an audience at Buckingham Palace — the first one since March last year — saw her in excellent (and mischievous) spirits, with banter about the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The same enthusiasm was on show when she travelled to Edinburgh and met Nicola Sturgeon during four days of duties in Scotland. 

In a busy week, she also hosted the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before ending it with one of her favourite engagements of the year, the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

In three weeks she begins her first summer holiday in Scotland without Philip. It will start at Craigowan Lodge before she moves on to Balmoral Castle a fortnight later.

More testing times lie ahead. At Christmas, for example, there will be no Philip at her side as she hands out presents to staff.

Slowly and surely, much of the heavy lifting of monarchy is passing to others. But at 95, the Queen is proof that life can still provide a fresh adventure every day.

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