To celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, I wanted to share my thoughts about what Her Majesty means to children and how children’s lives have changed over that incredible 70 years of service.
For most of us, the length of Her Majesty’s reign represents the limits of our imagination. It’s not just that 70 years is significantly further back than most of us can remember, but also that her reign stretches back to a world that is quite unfamiliar. No internet, no passenger jets, a new-born NHS, and a world still recovering from the Second World War.
For many adults across the world, The Queen has been a fixed point in that changing world. For children, she is a living link to that history. Last year, I published The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of England’s children asking them about their lives as we came out of the pandemic. One of those children said:
“I also want to talk to the [Queen] about World War Two. Not many people do this… [because they are] not thinking about what great history she holds” – Girl, 12.
Much of the change that she has presided over has been hugely positive, and Her Majesty’s reign has encompassed an incredible period of transformation for the concept of children’s rights in the United Kingdom and the world.
Those landmarks include:
- 1959: United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child
- 1959: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
- 1989: Children Act
- 1991: The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UK Ratification)
- 2004: Children Act, including the Establishment of the Children’s Commissioner for England
- 2010: Equality Act
- 2014: Children and Families Act
My sincere hope is that the next 70 years can hold as much ambition and action for the children of England and around the UK.
For children, Her Majesty so often represents what is good about Britain – the human face of an unknowable nation of 60 million. As one child said in The Big Ask:
“Overall, England is a good country we have free healthcare, democracy, a royal family, and a thriving economy.” – Girl, 14.
Her Majesty is someone that children can look to when they formulate their ideas of how the world ought to be. Responding to The Big Ask, children said:
“People need to stop hurting people and animals, and look after the world, and the Queen needs to tell people to do it” – Girl, 6.
“I’d pick up rubbish and put it in the bin and [be able] to talk to the Queen” – Girl, 8.
For other children, Her Majesty is an aspirational figure. She represents the qualities that they would like to embody in adulthood. As children said in The Big Ask:
“Having a beautiful house like a [palace] like the Queen” – Girl, 7.
“A vet, Queen and a dance teacher” – Girl, 8.
“I don’t think there is anything stopping them they just need to believe in themselves and do your thing we are all Queens / Kings” – Girl, 10.
Her Majesty herself had a unique childhood, overshadowed by historical events and the great matters of state. In her early childhood before the abdication of her uncle, she had no reason to expect that she would one day rule. Aged only 10 she unexpectedly became the heir to the throne and then was only 13 years old when the world was plunged into war. Her teenage years were spent growing into her responsibilities as part of the war effort. From 16 years old, the young princess was expected to inspect the Guards – active-duty soldiers serving during wartime – on parade. She took her duty seriously and her insistence on serving without favour in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army, as soon as she turned 18 is well known. Perhaps, it was this singular childhood that instilled in her such a firm belief both in the importance of children and also in what they are capable of.
Throughout Her Majesty’s reign, the Royal Family have been closely associated with improving the lives of children and young people. Her Majesty was personally a patron of a number of children’s charities, responsibilities that she has now passed on to other members of the Royal Family. Despite her gradual retirement from public duties, Her Majesty continues to this day to be the patron of Girlguiding, a position that she has held since 1952.
The late His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, was also famous for campaigning for positive activities for children and young people. Particularly through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme to which he gave his name and that now almost half a million young people participate in each year. His Royal Highness also used his position throughout his life to support organisations working with children, as shown in his first and longest patronage of The Federation of London Youth Clubs from 1947.
I would like to personally thank Her Majesty for her tireless championing of the interests of children and of being a figure that so many children look to as a symbol of duty, commitment to others, and continuity. I think that it is a wonderful testament to Her Majesty’s approach to public service that so many children today will gather with their friends and families, their neighbours, and their communities to celebrate her reign and the goodness of Britain – these are memories they will hold for the rest of their lives.
I would like to end with a quote from one more child. Appearing on the BBC’s Children’s Hour in her first public address, a young woman speaks directly to other children, who like her had been separated from their families and evacuated from their homes. It is a message of compassion and reassurance that she would be called on to give many times:
“Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country” – Her Majesty The Queen, 14.