Most people, including many Brits don’t know Queen Elizabeth the way I do.
They think of her as if she is a Disney character. They see her western media portrayal, the golden carriages, the horse shows, but that’s the fantasy.
In the 80’s, I worked in an area of southern Saudi Arabia named Haradh.
If you look at in on a map, you won’t see anything because there’s nothing there. The 80’s though, were a time when the industry collapsed so the oilfield I worked in didn’t even have oil rigs. (Or camps) There was a gas station 50 km north in a camp called Uthmaniyah, but besides that it was a few locals, Bedouins that traveled north-south and sand.
My crew, myself, Helmuth, Itbar and Iqbal spent the week in the desert. They slept in the work truck and I slept out under the stars in the back of my pickup. At night, typically exhausted from the heat and 16-hour work days, I’d lay comatose on my piece of foam rubber and flip on my radio. I got one station. BBC world news. It was BBC that taught me who the queen was.
The middle east, and much of OPEC, is run by monarchs.
There’s a king in Saudi Arabia, Emirs in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and a Sultan’s in Brunei and Oman. After that were the Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia and old colonial outposts like Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore and Mumbai. After that was a veritable laundry list of leaders from Africa and Asia. This was Elizabeth’s realm, these were her peers and she was the master.
This diminutive woman with her regal husband never went out of character.
Few monarchs in history could match her style when she cruised into a port in the HMY Britannia but Elizabeth was anything but the precursor to the Kardashian’s.
People seem to forget that after WW2, the Brits were not exactly popular. They were downright hated in India and the new kid on the block was the United States, but she single handedly turned that around. She was a woman you couldn’t hate. A war veteran in her own way, she was incredibly powerful and influential and everywhere she landed, literally the entire nation of England landed. Every night, I’d lay in my truck listening to BBC anchors (They call them presenters) and follow her movements.
I remember one particular meeting with the Sultan of Oman which occurred near a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The entire middle east was there but the Queen was the event. She had a sense of place and time that was magical and she literally oozed sincerity, making it near impossible for anyone to say no to her. She was (and is) also the queen of England which, by her presence, elevated the status of all the other Kings, Emirs, Sultans and Prince Abooboo’s in the room. In fact, even the US, who fought a war to cleanse the county of kings could not ignore her.
Under her rule, England went from poverty and near bankruptcy to one of the most powerful nations on earth.
They became a major export nation in pharmaceuticals, metals, oilfield equipment, airplane engines, ships and vehicles. They export intelligence as Oxford and Cambridge grads are top people in governments and companies in almost every civilized country and have integrated themselves into sports in much of Asia in soccer, squash, equestrian, tennis, formula one racing and cricket. Not bad for a country most of the world hated.
I don’t consider myself a patriot, but must admit, if I was British, or even as an American, I would have gone to war for her. I recall once being invited to a party in Bangkok for the sailors on a British ship that was returning from the Falkland’s war. (By one of my old embassy buddies) These guys must have toasted the queen 100 times. Elizabeth is as great a leader as I have seen in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, Charles isn’t but England seems to have this knack for producing the right leaders at the right time
Though I’m the eternal skeptic, I’m pretty optimistic about William especially after his choice of wives. The people I know who have met him think he’s the real deal. Luckily, he’ll follow Charles and not Elizabeth, who would have been a tough act to follow by any king or queen.
The 20th century saw some of the greatest leaders of all time, Churchill, Reagan, Pope John Paul, Konrad Adenauer, Eisenhower, to name a few but none of them ever quite attained the level of perfection of Elizabeth. She was, like Victoria, a singularity of her time. The world already misses her, and she’s still here.
Note: Okay, I know what you’re thinking. British sailors will use any excuse to drink but the first 15-20 toasts seemed sincere. Tough bunch, they let me in because I was a US Marine.
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