Daniela Elser: The tell-tale sign the Queen’s health is worse than we thought

OPINION:

Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II are united by more than their name. They were both women never destined for the throne but for whom fate had other plans. They were, and are, both women whose reigns stand as some of the rarer golden chapters in the long, bloody and often dismal book of British sovereigns. And they both, as the years advanced, found themselves facing the ravages of age in the most public way.

As Sir Walter Raleigh once said of Elizabeth I, she was “a lady whom time had surprised”.

Sadly, in the past two weeks that sentiment has become another thing the current Queen shares with her 16th century namesake, as she contends with the onset of an unspecified, mysterious health crisis.

When news broke on October 20 that the 95-year-old was pulling out of a planned two-day tour of Northern Ireland, the collective response was shock. This is the Queen we are talking about: A woman who still rides her beloved Fell ponies and still gets behind the wheel of her Land Rover to tool about her various estates.

Watch any video of her undertaking a recent video engagement and she is as funny and spry as ever. (Yes, really.) After losing her “strength and stay”, her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, in April, she went back to work four days later.

This is not a woman who takes a sick day when she feels a niggle in the back of her throat or gets the odd sniffle. Her wartime service as part of Auxiliary Territorial Service might be dragged out with boring repetitiveness but it is exactly that unflagging spirit that still seems to drive her today. (She is still the only crowned head of state in the world who knows what to do with a spark plug.)

Therefore, when Buckingham Palace put out a three-sentence long statement earlier this month saying she had “reluctantly accepted medical advice” to rest for a few days, the world took serious notice.

Ramping up the anxiety levels was the news that broke the following day that she had been secretly hospitalised in London while the press had been led to believe she was still tucked up in Windsor Castle, a fact that only came out after the Sun exposed that particular charade.

Then came the news this week that Her Majesty would not be attending next week’s big climate change confab in Scotland alongside 120 world leaders, thus ratcheting up the alarm even further about the state of her health.

All the world was told was that, “Following advice to rest, The Queen has been undertaking light duties at Windsor Castle. Her Majesty has regretfully decided that she will no longer travel to Glasgow.”

On Thursday this week when the palace put out a series of shots of her welcoming incoming Ambassadors via video call in a vain attempt to tamp down worry, the sight of what looked like a large bruise on her forearm only had the reverse effect. (One possible theory is that it came from a cannula in her arm from her hospitalisation last week.)

However, among all of this, the palace might have inadvertently given away a major clue that would suggest that whatever is currently going on might be more serious than anyone thought.

Like any person who has managed to make it to her 10th decade, she has had her fair share of minor bumps, scrapes and illnesses. And, in nearly every instance, Buckingham Palace has either put out a statement or sent a spokesman out to brief the press about the situation and offered up some crumbs of actual details.

For example in 2003, when Her Majesty had surgery to repair torn cartilage. A statement issued by her press secretary stated: “The 45-minute operation, which was performed by The Queen’s orthopaedic surgeon Mr Roger Vickers, went very well and Her Majesty is expected to leave hospital tomorrow morning.” (At which it went into soporific detail about the surgeons, information which no one aside from said doctors’ proud mothers would have been interested in.)

In 2013, the previous time the Queen was hospitalised, the palace put out a statement explaining simply that she was “being assessed at the King Edward VII hospital, London, after experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis.”

Or, Christmas in 2016 when the palace announced she would not be attending the usual family church service by saying: “The Queen continues to recover from a heavy cold.”

Even more recently, in June 2018 when she pulled out of a service at St Paul’s Cathedral to mark the 200th anniversary of the Order of Michael and St George with a statement that read, in, part, that Her Majesty “feeling under the weather today and has decided not to attend this morning’s service”.

In short, the palace was, albeit very moderately, forthcoming with a detail or two.

So, why are they offering exactly zero details about what might be going on now? One logical but highly worrying conclusion would be that, unlike cataract surgery or a stomach bug, there is something much more serious going on (or she is being tested for).

While none of these previous statements go into too much personal detail, the pattern that we have seen over the past two decades or so is a certain level of straightforwardness on the part of the palace and a begrudging proffering of some information in these instances. The underlying principle here seemed to be that it is the far smarter move to explain things to the public and the press and to not alarm anyone unduly.

However, this time around, that strategy seems to have gone out of the window, carrying with it the possibility that this current crisis might be more severe than merely a pesky cold.

Realistically, we are never going to see a palace spokesperson pop up, or an official statement come out, going into loquacious detail about the health of the nonagenarian but still, this month’s assiduously tight-lipped approach represents a departure from previous form.

Over the past 10 days the media has been left to, like Talmudic scholars, try and parse the meagre scraps of information coming out of Buckingham Palace to figure out what might be going on.

The problem here is, the more enigmatic they are and the more opaque the situation becomes, the more alarm about the Queen’s welfare gets dialled up.

I’m not suggesting the palace starts giving out blow-by-blow accounts of her every cholesterol test and blood pressure reading, but denying the outside world any insight here has only stoked fears and forced editors the world over to dust off their pre-prepared obituaries for the sovereign.

Like her regal forebear, time has “surprised” the Queen of late. In recent weeks, she has started using a walking stick in public, agreed to forgo her nightly gin martini for the sake of her health and faces the possibility of having to give up riding until next year because she is, as a royal source told the Mirror, “resting and taking every precaution to get back to full fitness”.

(The same source also added, “She is very determined to be back riding as soon as possible and in no way does she feel her riding days are behind her.” Giddy up indeed.)

There is one piece of good news here, namely that Her Majesty undertook her usual audience with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday for the first time in three weeks. While a tete-a-tete with the brush-haired, uncomfortably fecund leader might not be your or my cup of tea, at least this represents a tiny step back towards normalcy.

Earlier this month, the Queen declined to be named Oldie magazine’s Oldie of the Year award saying, with a spokesman explaining that “Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel”.

Here’s hoping that despite the vicissitudes of the past 10 days, she is still feeling relatively sprightly, and the world’s press can soon put all of those eulogies back in their drawers and leave them there for many years to come.

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