The text of Sir John Major’s speech, in May 2012, held at the Carlton Club to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Sir John was introduced by Baron Freeman, who as Roger Freeman was the MP for Kettering from 1983 until 1997 and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1995 until 1997.
Members of the Carlton Club, and their guests.
Thank you for coming for the Jubilee dinner, it’s a great privilege to introduce our former Prime Minister, and a tremendous supporter of the Carlton Club, both personally and in his many responsibilities in Government.
And so it’s a great pleasure to introduce and ask Sir John Major to say a few words about our Jubilee dinner celebrations.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
Roger, thank you very much and good evening to all.
As you can see I’m a touch under-dressed. I’m going elsewhere, less glamorous, maybe a bit more hard-working, I think you may have more fun than I will this evening. But my apologies for being less well turned out than the rest of you.
I was coming in through this door a few moments ago and I recalled a conversation I had with Boris Yeltsin about twenty years ago. We were walking in the Kremlin, I said to him, “Boris, tell me in one word, what is the state of Russia”, he replied “good”. I was surprised, it was falling to pieces. I said “tell me in two words”. He said, “not good”.
We, I think, are immediately in front of what is going to be a very good, very memorable, very remarkable weekend with the Queen’s sixtieth anniversary Jubilee.
As I look around, and I hope it’s not unkind to say, I can see quite a number of people amongst us who will remember the Queen acceding to the Throne and will remember King George VI dying.
I remember very plainly, I was 10, I remember my mother coming into the kitchen with tears in her eyes and saying “the King is dead, we have a Queen now”. And it was very different, suddenly at the end of those grey, dreary post-war years with the hardships and the rationing for so many people, we had a young glamorous Queen, with a young husband and a young family and the future suddenly looked rather different.
She presented a new beginning, she offered that most elusive of all human emotions, hope. And those of us who were around at that time will remember that emotion very well indeed. And it seemed suddenly to be coming true. Very shortly afterwards we had a bonfire of many of the war and post-war controls, Rab Butler and the Government got rid of so many of them, they just suddenly disappeared.
Then some very remarkable things happened, on the very eve of the Coronation, Edmund Hillary got to the top of Mount Everest in a quite remarkable feat, which no-one had thought given what had happened in the past would ever be done.
And then we won back the Ashes. I may have been only 10, but I remember Denis Compton sweeping the ball backwards to square and thousands of people running onto the pitch, we had won the Ashes for the first time since the early 1930s. It seemed that all things were possible.
Old favourites at last got their due, Stanley Matthews won the cup final for Blackpool, perhaps the most popular footballer this country has ever had. In a remarkable game when his team were losing 3-1 and he turned it around and they won. It was the new Elizabethan Age.
And then miracles of miracles, a few months later, on a grey day at Oxford, with no pre-preparation Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway eased Roger Bannister round to run a mile in under four minutes for the first time in history. It seemed in this new Elizabethan Age that all things were possible.
I personally remember the Coronation very well. My family, God knows how, scraped together enough money to buy a little black and white television. It was about ten inches, the pictures were dubious, but they came through occasionally. And most of the street crowded into our tiny little bungalow to watch those flickering pictures on the screen, it seemed then to be a miracle. Aged ten I watched them in between trips to make the tea and bring it back for what seemed the whole street who were there.
And how things have changed in the reign of Elizabeth. World population has doubled, extra-ordinary, has doubled, it took us 1900 years from the time of Christ to increase world population by a billion, we now do it every 12 years, that’s why it has doubled under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. In her reign, man has been put on the moon and we have reached far out to the skies.
Things that were a miracle then are conventional necessities today but no young couple would think of marrying without actually having in their home. It was 25 years after the Queen had been on the throne that the first microwave came out. At then it was about 200 to 250 pounds for a microwave. So things have changed very dramatically, we may grumble sometimes, times at the moment are tough, not just tough in this country but tough almost everywhere and the difficult economic scenario overseas reflects back at home as well, and our difficulties reflect overseas.
And so we grumble. And sometimes we complain about what the situation is, but however rose-coloured our glasses are about the past, so much has changed. And so much in the way in which we live our lives has changed for the better. We live longer, our health is better, our nourishment is better and child mortality is minute compared to what it was. So many changes and all to the good.
And yet in a very material way, the Queen hasn’t changed at all. Of course, the Monarchy has evolved, and of course, the Queen is older than she was. Even Queens can’t hold birthdays at bay as the years come around.
But in many material ways she hasn’t changed. As a 21 year old Princess Elizabeth, she pledged herself to the service of the nation and to the Commonwealth. My, how she has kept that promise over the last sixty years. In that way, she hasn’t changed at all, with a remarkable example of duty and selflessness and a commitment to public service. And I have been privileged to see her behind the scenes from time to time. And I can tell you that she’s every bit as remarkable as she seems from a distance, quite extraordinary. She is, we tend not to think of it.
I travel around the world for six months every year, the Queen is the most famous woman anywhere in the world. When people in any far corner of the world talk of the Queen, they mean our Queen. In every single part of the world she is the central image that people across the world have of Monarchy as an institution.
And consider what she has done, and what she has lived through, what you are celebrating this evening, at this particular dinner, in the last sixty years she has met every significant figure in the world, she is a living encyclopaedia of history. Almost impossible that in the whole of history that anyone has met quite so many people, even in times gone by. Even Queen Victoria, who reigned for slightly longer than our Queen could not have matched the people she met, for travel did not permit her to do so. So the Queen’s record in this respect is unique.
And now we celebrate a very remarkable anniversary of hers. And those people who are the sneerers and the knockers will find what a tiny minority they are in our country when the whole country comes out to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne.
And what does the Queen say of this anniversary? In history it is entirely traditional that people present things to their Monarchs at great anniversaries. And what the Queen has said, “I would not wish to have any gifts or any presentations but I would like any gifts or presentations which people wish to offer as a tribute to me to go to the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust”, of which I’m honoured to be Chairman.
That trust was set up by all the heads of Government in the Commonwealth in Perth a few months ago. The purpose is to raise as much money from Governments, from local Governments, from companies, from foundations, individuals, to raise as much money as they can, and then the Queen would like it to be spent on projects that will be a legacy to her reign and will improve the lives of Commonwealth citizens in every single part of the Commonwealth.
You might say ‘why the Commonwealth?’, and I emphasise for those that doubt it, that includes us in the UK, we will also get a slice of that money. So please don’t hold back on the donations. Anyone accessing our web-site, www.jubileetribute.org may found it perfectly easy to make any size of donation you’d like.
So, why the Commonwealth? I think the answer to that is very simple. When the Queen came to the Throne, how many members of the Commonwealth do you think there were? The answer is eight. Eight members of the Commonwealth, there are now 54. The Queen and the Commonwealth have grown up together, and she is an essential part of it.
To see her at a Commonwealth Heads of Government conference is to see a quite remarkable sight as people crowd around to see the Queen, meet the Queen, talk to the Queen and be photographed with the Queen.
Do no doubt for one moment the enormous value of the Monarchy to Britain’s position in every part of the world, and most especially, within the Commonwealth. In 1952, when King George VI died and the Queen ascended to the throne, Truman was President, Churchill was Prime Minister and Stalin was in the Kremlin. It sounds like ancient history, but yet she has lived through every part of it. Even more incredibly, every day, every week during those 60 years, she has seen State papers, seen them and read them and built up a vast accumulation of knowledge that the head of MI5 and MI6 could only gasp at in admiration.
And then a few years ago, the Queen Mother died, 102, and a much loved figure. But when she died, in a curious way that happens sometimes in countries such as ours, the Queen stood out alone, she became iconic. Not only in our country, but in every country of the world. She became, quite literally on the death of her mother, the mother of the nation.
Anybody under the age of 70 would not remember, not really remember, anybody else on the Throne. They, and she, have grown up together. She, and the Duke of Edinburgh, who has been such a tremendous support to her, are a constant in everybody who is under the age of 70. And today, I think that the Monarchy is as secure in the affections of the nation as at any time I can remember in my lifetime or as in any time.
We had in the 90s the ‘Annus Horribilis’, actually as I recall, the Queen and I had ‘Annus Horribili’ at the same time. It all seems such a long time ago, but I’m certainly not yet in a position to celebrate my Diamond Jubilee.
Let me just say something else about the Queen, she is remarkable, but she isn’t remarkable just because she is the Queen. She is remarkable for her own virtues and assets. She has enormous common sense, she has the common sense of the English country-woman, if I might put it that way. Anyone who has seen her walking her dogs in the rain, early in the morning in mackintosh raincoat and wellington boots, will know exactly what I mean when I say she has the common sense, and many of the attitudes and instincts, of an English country-woman.
Take it from me, I had the privilege of sitting with her every week for seven years, when we discussed all manner of things, both international and domestic. She’s a very wise lady. And how many people are there who have been in a position of public eminence, where the cameras of the world are focused on them every day, who still retain the affection of their nation after sixty years?
The shelf-life of most personalities, of any sort, whatever they are involved in, is far, far, shorter than that. They move like fire-crackers up in the air, they fizzle for a while, and then they fall back to earth. But the Queen has gone on from strength to strength.
I will give you one illustration of why. I remember a banquet in 1995, a very grand banquet, of which President Mitterrand and President Clinton were both attending, it was the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day. I looked at the table plan, President Mitterrand, not the most reserved of men, and also President Clinton, also not especially reserved, were both sitting way below the salt at the Queen’s long table. And my private secretary suggested to courtiers that this perhaps wasn’t the best placement there might have been.
“Ah” he was told, “but it is protocol, members of the European royal families sit next to the Queen”. I thought this was perhaps mistaken. And in a manner in which I won’t bore you, with the message was delivered to the Queen that this was a bad idea. It changed instantly, and what was it the Queen said? I will tell you exactly what the Queen said, “You’re quite right, I should sit next to President Clinton and President Mitterrand, after all I can sit next to my cousins at any time I like”.
I am, and always will be, very supportive, and indeed when you have your back turned to a Cecil [referring to a painting behind him at the Carlton Club], it is very wise to be supportive of the Monarchy.
I think we’re here because we’re all supportive of the Monarchy, not just the Monarchy as an institution, but supportive of this particular Monarch as well. Let the knockers and the carpers have their hour in the sun from time to time. Get out of the familiar chattering circle of Whitehall and Westminster and get out into the counties and the cities of the United Kingdom, and you will see how deep and how secure and how enduring are the roots that sustain our Monarchy, and in particular, this special Monarch.
And so tonight, on an evening when you are gathered here to celebrate that sixty years, and I am sadly going off to do some work, on the night you are gathered here, I would like to promote a toast that I think that we can all join in with a great deal of pleasure.
The toast is to someone who has served our nation as well in my judgement as anyone in our long history of 1,000 years
As anyone in our long history, the toast is,
Her Majesty the Queen
Thank you very much.