‘Seven Decades of Service’: British Policy Expert Reacts to Queen’s Passing, Explains What’s Next for Monarch

Queen Elizabeth II passed away Thursday. She was 96 years old. Queen Elizabeth II was the longest reigning monarch in British history, serving as the sovereign of the nation for 70 years. 

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, and a foreign policy researcher for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, says he was shocked when he learned of the queen’s passing. 

“She’ll be remembered ultimately for seven decades of service,” says Gardiner. “She didn’t see her reign as ruling over the British people. She regarded her time as the monarch, as a sovereign, as one of service to the British nation.”

“That kind of example is so incredibly inspiring to see. You see that so rarely today among political leaders or politicians,” says Gardiner, adding, “She was somebody who was always thinking about how she could serve her country.”

Gardiner joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share his experience of meeting the queen, the legacy she leaves behind, and to explain what happens next in Britain as Prince Charles becomes King Charles. 

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Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: Queen Elizabeth II has just passed away. And here with us to explain what we know about the queen’s passing, honor her legacy, and discuss the future of the British monarch is the Heritage Foundation’s director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, Nile Gardiner. Nile also served as a foreign policy researcher for former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Nile, thank you so much for being here today.

Nile Gardiner: It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much having me on the show.

Allen: Queen Elizabeth passed away on Thursday at the age of 96. Nile, what do we know about her passing?

Gardiner: Well, of course, today is an incredibly a sad day, not only for the British people, but I think for the people of the United States and across the commonwealth and across the free world. And she was an incredibly inspiring leader. And I have to say that her passing away today was actually very sudden, really. She has had a number of health scares in the past.

I think that the British people did not want to believe in any way that the queen could pass away. And I cannot imagine actually a world without the queen at the helm … she was the British monarch for 70 years. That was significantly longer than even Queen Victoria before her.

For most British people, their entire lives have been lived under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. And so, her passing away today, actually despite her very vast age, is still a very big shock actually. I was hoping against all hope that she would pull through.

And when the news came of her passing, I could barely believe it. It was just a huge shock really. And my hope had been that the queen would be with us at least to the age of 100. Her mother had lived to, I think, 102 years old. And so, I’d hoped that the queen would be with us for many, many more years.

Earlier this week, she in fact met with Liz Truss, our new prime minister, to give her assent to the new government. And she also bid farewell for Boris Johnson. So she was working to the very end. This was the spirit of the queen—really, an incredibly hardworking person. And she literally was working up until just a day before she passed away at the age of 96.

That kind of dedication to her country, the selflessness, the spirit of service, just incredible, and you rarely see that today. She was somebody who lived her entire life for her country. I had the opportunity to meet her on a couple of occasions, including at Lady Thatcher’s 80th birthday party. And the queen was just a figure of immense grace, but also humility as well.

The queen was an incredibly humble person, considering the tremendous power that she actually wielded in so many respects. I remember a lady of tremendous warmth, grace, good humor, and who was so dearly loved. And I’m just heartbroken by the news today and it’s just devastating.

Allen: We’re seeing images of crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace to mourn the loss and express their support for the royal family. For yourself as a Brit, what was that first thought that went through your mind when you learned of her passing?

Gardiner: I couldn’t believe it actually. I had a call from a TV producer who, in advance of the official notice, said that the queen had passed away. And I said to the producer that I simply couldn’t believe, I would not believe it, unless until there was an official statement. And I was still hoping … that she would survive. So my immediate response was just disbelief actually, and I could not believe it. And as I mentioned earlier, I just can’t imagine a world without the queen in it. …

This is the end of an era. And so, I think this is just such an immense loss, not only for a country, but for the entire free world. I mean she was really in many respects, the leader of the free world, the queen, over the course of many generations.

I think that no doubt several US presidents would actually defer to that view because she was the embodiment of leadership of the free world. So we will forever cherish her memory and her spirit lives on in all of us. And she is not departed from our hearts. And her soul remains as just the embodiment of what life is all about, isn’t it really? The queen, in my view, she may have physically passed away, but she lives on in our hearts and will always be there.

Allen: And speaking of presidents, she met with a number of U.S. presidents, I believe, around 11.

Gardiner: At least. At least, yeah.

Allen: What was her relationship with the U.S. and what were her interactions like with U.S. presidents?

Gardiner: Yeah. So, as you mentioned, I mean she met with at least 11 presidents. I think actually she may have met even with about 13. I think Lyndon Johnson may have been the only president she didn’t meet with. And most recent, of course, she met with Joe Biden.

So, she had a very warm relationship with every U.S. president she met, it didn’t matter what political persuasion they’re from. The queen was above politics. She never involved herself in politics, and rightly so. She was somebody who warmly greeted every U.S. president. And it didn’t matter what political party they were from, she never intervened in politics, and that was her style.

She firmly adhered to the view that the monarchy should not be involved in political matters. And I think that is the right approach, because that ensures as well that there’s no political controversy surrounding the sovereign, the monarch.

She had a very warm relationship, I think with every U.S. president she met with, and especially with Ronald Reagan, I think. I don’t know if the queen ever spoke her favorites, but the queen, I think, loved meeting with Ronald Reagan. Not least because Reagan [had] such a close partnership with Margaret Thatcher.

My former boss, Lady Thatcher, was actually very, very close to the queen, despite what you may see in “The Crown” and fictional depictions. Margaret Thatcher had a very, very close partnership with the queen. They were the two most powerful women in the world. And they were the leaders of the free world in the day together with Ronald Reagan. And so, the queen loved America. She loved the spirit of freedom in America. She loved everything about the United States. I think that she greatly enjoyed meeting with every U.S. president that she met with. And she never put politics ahead of her sense of duty.

Allen: Explain what is going to happen in Britain in the coming days and weeks.

Gardiner: Well, so basically, we are going to have a period of mourning in the United Kingdom, and that will be followed by the official ascension to the throne of Prince Charles who will become King Charles. We are entering a new era for the United Kingdom. It’s the end of the second Elizabethan era. …

There is a very detailed process that is involved in terms of the ascension to the throne of the new king. The royal family, the royal household, would’ve been preparing for this for many years, if not even decades. And so, there is an established protocol in place that’s very detailed. The full details will be no doubt released, I think, to the public in the course of the next 24 hours in terms of the exact timing.

And Charles will be, I think, quite a different monarch than his mother actually. And it’s going to be a different kind of monarchy, in some respects, actually with Charles at the helm. But I think the monarchy is in very safe hands. And when eventually King Charles passes away, many decades from now, then Prince William will become king.

One of the great things about the royal family is that everything’s meticulously planned, organized. There’s nothing else like the royal family in the world. The royal family is an incredible institution. And the planning that’s involved in all the affairs of state here—absolutely rigorous, intense. The planning takes place over the course of many, many decades. Everything that you see over the course of the next few days will have been planned even decades ago.

Allen: And what do you think the British people’s thoughts are on Prince Charles becoming King Charles? And do you think that there’s any chance that the monarchy ends with Queen Elizabeth II?

Gardiner: No, no. I mean, the monarchy is very strong. I think it’s in very good shape, the queen has ensured that. And if you look at the opinion polling in the U.K., support for the monarchy is usually between 70-80%.

Even here in the United States, opinion polls have shown that the royal family is generally greatly admired. And in fact the queen had an approval rating in Gallup polling across the decades in the United States usually over 70%. And the royal family, interesting enough, despite the previous clashes between Great Britain and America people, the royal family is very popular in America. So I think the royal family is going to be with us for many, many centuries to come.

And Prince Charles is not as popular as the queen has been, but he will grow into the role of king. Prince William, who will succeed him, is immensely popular. And so the future of the monarchy is secure. There’s no question of the monarchy ending. It’s going to be in place for many, many centuries, I believe, to come. It’s a very, very strong institution. And I think that Prince Charles will be a strong king. And I think that Prince William, who will succeed Charles, the head of the throne, will be an immensely popular monarch, actually. So, the future of the royal family is secure and in good hands.

Allen: You mentioned that Queen Elizabeth II was very good at not weighing in on political matters. Do you think that we would see the same thing from King Charles?

Gardiner: Yeah. So, Charles has intervened on political matters a number of times, especially on environmental issues, also recently on immigration matters. And usually his interventions have been met with strong criticism from especially conservative ministers and members of Parliament. And there is a general view consensus in the U.K. that the monarchy should not be engaged in political matters.

Charles has promised not to engage in any political contrivances once he becomes king. So I expect he’ll adhere to that, because if the king or queen gets involved in politics that actually undermines the strength of the monarchy. One of the key reasons why the monarchy is so strong and remains in place in the U.K. is that it doesn’t get involved in political matters. Well, certainly not the sovereign at the helm of the royal family. So, I expect Charles will honor that and will not become involved in political issues as king.

Allen: Nile, as the years pass, what do you think Queen Elizabeth II will be most remembered by? What will be her lasting legacy?

Gardiner: I think she’ll be remembered as somebody who led her country with a spirit of incredible dedication and service. And the queen was somebody who, without any kind of ego, she was a very humble person. She was somebody with the sense of living for a higher purpose.

Now, Margaret Thatcher, who I worked for, for many years, was exactly the same, and she lived every moment for her country. And so, Margaret Thatcher and the queen were very similar people in that respect. And I think she’ll be remembered ultimately for seven decades of service. She didn’t see her reign as ruling over the British people. She regarded her time as the monarch, as a sovereign, as one of service to the British nation. And that’s what she was all about.

That kind of example is so incredibly inspiring to see. You see that so rarely today among political leaders or politicians. And of course, the queen was not a political leader, but the head of state. But she was somebody who was always thinking about how she could serve her country. That is a tremendous testament to her life, her legacy, and her spirit of service. So, that lives on.

Allen: Nile, thank you. We really appreciate you coming on today.

Gardiner: My pleasure. Thank you very much having me on the show. Incredibly sad day, but we cherish the memory of a truly incredible figure who impacted all of our lives, and we will never forget the queen.

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