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What does the Queen do ?
In February, the English cricket team – virtual demigods in their country after defeating Australia last summer – were attending a reception amid the Rembrandts and Rubensesin the Picture Gallery of Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth had just pinned medals on the athletes’ chests signifying their new status as Members of the Order of the British Empire, and wasstrolling among them, chatting and laughing with their proud families. She was the star of the show, making people grin – indeed, sometimes erupt with laughter – her own face switching between that studiedplacidity that is her trademark and a really dazzling smile. After the Queen moved on to another clutch of guests, Ashley Giles, one of the cricketers, appeared starstruck. He is 33, used to thepressure of top-level sports and the adulation of crowds. Yet he was visibly moved. “Just coming to Buckingham Palace in itself is an incredible honor for me,” he said, shaking his head. “But meeting theQueen makes this one of the most memorable days of my life.” Really? That grandmotherly figure who always carries a handbag and never says anything controversial? “She is a living link with our history,which is very important to me. She’s also very sharp. I think she does a fantastic job.” Then he added, slowly and with feeling: “And she is the most ... beautiful ... woman!” Chalk one up for theenduring enigma of royalty. Long ago, mystery added to the authority of Kings; now, the idea of monarchy is self-evidently nonsensical. How can one person picked by the lottery of birth possibly embody awhole nation? What can a constitutional monarch like Elizabeth II, prohibited from exercising any real power, actually do to justify her country’s steady devotion – the crowds who line up to cheerwhen she passes, her face on each coin and bill and postage stamp, a national anthem that beseeches God to save her? What does she really do to earn something for which respect is way too small a word?...
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