Ninety, not out!


By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana

Ninety would be considered lucky by many—more so to have survived till then having retired 25 or 30 years ago, to be a ripe old age but not Queen Elizabeth II, who passed that milestone on 21st April; she continues to work full-time! "Born not to be, but none could have done better" is perhaps the best way to sum up her reign. She has broken record after record being the longest reigning queen, oldest current monarch, longest serving British Monarch and has the face that appears on the most number of currencies, about 35 at the last count. I have no doubts that history will, one day, recognize her as the most successful monarch Britain ever had. She is 90, but not out, as she continues to work, keeping to the pledge she made, on 8th February 1952, when she was proclaimed the Queen, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith; "Whether my life is short or long, I shall always work to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples"

When she was born on 21st April 1926, the eldest daughter of Prince Albert, Duke of York, the second son of King George V, no one, not even her parents, would have ever imagined that she would be Queen one day. She was not born in a Royal Palace but at the London residence of her maternal grandfather, 14th Earl of Strathmore, in Bruton Street, Mayfair which is a Chinese Restaurant today. Even when her father ascended to the throne as King George VI in 1936, on the abdication of his elder brother King Edward VIII to marry a divorced American Wallis Simpson, she became only ‘heir presumptive’ as, if her parents had a son he would be heir apparent, according to the British law of ‘male succession’ which was changed recently; yet another progressive measure in her long and fruitful reign. Fortunately for Britain and the Commonwealth, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth did not have any children after Margaret, who was born in 1930.

While being in Kenya, on their way for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, it fell upon the Duke of Edinburgh, whom she married in 1947, to break the sad news of her father’s death on 6th February 1952. They returned to London immediately and the proclamation of her ascension was made two days later but her coronation took place only on 2 June 1953, as a lot of planning was involved specially because of the post-war austerity. The Queen is supposed to have used war-coupons collected for the gown. Her beloved grandmother, Queen Mary, died in March but the coronation was not delayed according to the final wishes of Queen Mary.


Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was the first major event to be televised and the coronation gown she wore bore testimony to her great attachment to the Commonwealth. It was designed by Norman Hartnell who submitted eight designs and on the suggestion of the Queen had modified to include emblems to represent the various countries she was interested in. This gown is described in many websites, the best description being in the National Gallery of Australia website which states:

"The emblems of the countries of the Commonwealth, which can be seen on the embroidery sample acquired by the Gallery in 1986, include the Tudor rose of England, the Scots thistle, the Welsh leek and the shamrock of Ireland complemented by the wattle of Australia, the maple leaf of Canada, the New Zealand fern, South Africa’s protea, a pearly lotus flower for India, a second opalescent lotus flower for Ceylon and Pakistan’s wheat, cotton and jute. The motifs on the dress were embroidered in pastel-coloured silks, pearls, diamonds, pale amethysts, golden crystals, gold and silver bullion and sequins to create a shimmering effect."

Her Majesty’s interest in Sri Lanka, which was initially demonstrated by this action, has continued unabated. Shortly after the Sri Lankan cricket team, which replaced the Indian team that pulled out after the Mumbai attacks, was shot at in Pakistan in March 2009, at a cocktail party the Queen had approached the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to inquire how the team was getting on.


I am well aware that many continue to blame, still, the British for all our misfortunes but wish to reiterate what I have stated in the past; while condemning colonization, if I had to choose a colonizer it certainly would be the British, the creation of the Commonwealth being one of the reasons. The only empire, after its disintegration, that had made a genuine attempt to show cordiality and equality to former colonies is Britain, which created the modern Commonwealth of Nations in 1949 with the London declaration though a primordial one was in existence from 1931.

The success of the Commonwealth is largely due to the enthusiasm of Her Majesty and the respect it commands is shown by the fact that two countries which were never under British rule or influence opted to join; Mozambique, a colony of Portugal till June 1975, and Rwanda, a colony of Belgium till July 1962, which has adopted English as an official language since joining. It is an association of 53 sovereign nations with a combined population of 2.2 billion people, a third of the world’s population.

Admittedly, the Commonwealth is not without problems but it is more the personalities than the organization, as well demonstrated by the disgraceful behaviour of David Cameron at the Heads of Government meeting held in Colombo.


The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust set up in 2012, in partnership with Comic Relief, a charity using humour to raise funds, which was set up in 1985, and The Royal Commonwealth Society, launched The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme on 9th July 2015 at Buckingham Palace. According to their website the objectives are:

"The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognises and celebrates exceptional people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives. Winners of this prestigious Award will receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK during which they will collect their Award from Her Majesty The Queen. With this support, Award winners will be expected to continue and develop the amazing work they are already doing in their communities."

We are proud to have a winner from Sri Lanka too for Queen’s Young Leaders Awards; Nushelle de Silva and the website describes her achievements as follows:

"Nushelle works on peace and reconciliation projects having been deeply affected by her country’s civil war. She uses the arts to generate dialogue between ethnically diverse young people and in 2012 founded Building Bridges, a series of weekly arts workshops, to encourage dialogue between young people in recently rehabilitated communities. She is currently completing a PhD in architectural history, focusing specifically on the relationship between built space and the politics of its construction. Nushelle believes that designers who can think critically about these areas can play a vital role in processes of post-war reconstruction and she uses her academic training to facilitate discussions on these topics."


It is estimated that about half a million Sri Lankans are living in the UK but since we opted to be a republic in 1972, we have drifted away from Britain. That does not necessarily mean that we should respect Queen Elizabeth II less. Even the ardent republicans in the United Kingdom, of which there are many, respect her for what she is. From the age of 25, she has dedicated her life to service, visited almost every country in the world, some many times (Canada 27 times), travelling one and a half million miles. She is one of best known and one of the most respected in the world.

We wish Her Majesty Many Happy Returns!

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