Editor-At-Large: The first modern royal

She summed up all the values we can't be bothered with in the era of Ali G and Jordan and connected with ordinary people, understanding what they were feeling
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The Independent Online

She loved horse-racing, and her family. Apparently she enjoyed a drink and a singsong, summoning Elton John to perform in the living room after dinner. She never gave an interview, but was said to have the "common touch". During the Second World War she toured bombsites, refusing to send her children Elizabeth and Margaret to the safety of Canada. If the Queen Mother possessed one quality above all other, it was the ability to interpret the emotional needs of the nation and conduct herself in a way which resonated with people right across the social divide.

Graham Turner's recent biography of the Queen paints a picture of a solemn woman chained down by her sense of duty, unable to relate to her own children, distant from her husband. A woman so out of touch with her subjects that public reaction to the death of Princess Diana both exasperated and confused her. How ironic that her own mother, born a commoner, who rose from life in a large family (the ninth out of 10 children) should have gripped the affections of the nation in a way her daughter has never managed to. The Queen Mother became an iconic figure overshadowing her own daughter and embodying a sense of duty and devotion to the family.

To many of my generation, the bulge babies born directly after the Second World War, the Royal Family has been an historic anachronism. In the 1950s the "we can do it" spirit embodied by the Festival of Britain when we had a new and glamorous Queen, seemed like the beginning of a second Elizabethan age. The truth is that the Queen Mother began to seem like the best queen we never had. Our current Queen has presided over a family as dysfunctional as any in the country. The 1960s saw the breaking down of the traditional class system and the rise of self-made millionaires. The landed gentry and the manners and values of the Queen Mother's generation were under threat. The role the Queen Mother created for herself was far beyond that of concerned aristocrat – that of caring and compassionate elder stateswoman, patron of hundreds of charities, and tireless worker. Always composed and perfectly radiant in the glare of public attention, she dressed in exactly the same way for decades – a lesson her own daughters never seemed to heed. Who can forget the ghastly hat worn by the Queen at the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales? Or her ill-at-ease appearance in both documentaries about the Royal Family?

By having an innate sense of what she represented and how to present herself, the Queen Mother never placed herself in an exposed position. She understood how to say less and mean more. As we fell out of love with the monarchy, we exempted her. She seemed to sum up all the values we couldn't be bothered with – manners, restraint and charm in an era of Ali G, Big Brother and Jordan. The Queen Mother still seemed stylish and relevant, simply by not trying ever to reflect anything that was either fashionable or of the moment. I have no time for the Royal Family with their ambivalent attitude to the press, their constant whingeing for special treatment and their profligate spending. But the Queen Mother seemed to prove something beyond any royal role. Now I am 55, I take inspiration from someone who knew how to grow old gracefully. It is said that she didn't dwell in the past, focusing on each day and the opportunities it presented, adopting a thoroughly positive attitude.

Prince Charles has been touted as a "caring" person, in touch with alternative therapies, sympathetic to ethnic communities, with a wide circle of friends. But is that really relevant to the job he will one day have to perform? His grandmother had a fraction of his education and was certainly raised with Edwardian values and a strong sense of religion, but she has effortlessly eclipsed him in the popularity polls year in and year out.

Perhaps her death will make us start to value the nation's most under-rated resource – the elderly. If we are to have a monarchy, then we don't need a king who has an opinion on everything from modern architecture to shiatsu. We need a constitutional figurehead who knows how we feel in times of national crisis and acts as a focus. The future looks somewhat depressing, given the current cast list.

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