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The extraordinary global response to the Queen’s death shows the real power of the UK

So far, the period of mourning for the late queen has almost completely followed the plans developed over so many years, but with one exception: the reaction. It is of a magnitude that is not quite foreseen, not only the queues, but also the acceptances for Monday’s funeral. Joe Biden’s surprising presence has raised some tough questions. He will bring his own cars, police and outsiders, but if he has allowed this luxury, how can Britain deny it to the (many) other world leaders present? To an extent that was not quite foreseen, this is not just a British event – or even a Commonwealth event – but a global event.

A memorial day for the Queen was held in India, a country where populist politicians regularly attack British imperialism. Even Brazil and Lebanon held official mourning days. The 10-hour queues for the recumbent in Westminster have mirrored Hong Kong’s queues to sign the condolence register. Polls show that nearly half of Canadians plan to attend the funeral. When it starts, the world stops for a moment. More than four billion viewers are predicted, which would make it the most watched event in human history.

All this in itself is a lot. When a respected world leader dies, there is always grief, but never on such a scale. A record-breaking 4.8 million people followed the flight that brought the Queen’s coffin from Edinburgh, a figure that was quite well reported. But one aspect of this was not made public: almost half of the interest came from abroad, mainly America and Germany. In various ways, the magic of the monarchy, so vividly exhibited, can be seen at work all over the world.

The night she died, I walked to Buckingham Palace to see people gather. Part of this, of course, is simple tourism: Americans who happen to be in London and want to partake in history, of course. Crowds attract crowds. But there were others. I met a Polish couple who had postponed their flight home to lay flowers. He had worked here for a few years and had come out of respect for the welcome he had received in Britain. Even for them, the notion of queen and homeland was inseparable.

In the interviews with those who queued five miles in front of Westminster Hall, we heard Ghanaians, Kenyans, Indonesians, Italians: some are here on holiday, others have traveled for the occasion. Which sounds logical. Why mourn the monarch of another country? It was Emmanuel Macron who explained it best. “She was your queen to you. To us she was the queen.”

This is the point. Amid his absurd series of articles attacking the monarchy, The New York Times also reported on the mood at home by asking: “Was Elizabeth the Queen of America? This week it looked like it.” Quite.

This was true in her life as well as in her death. Nothing in the modern British diplomatic toolkit has a fraction of the potential of the monarchy. When Reagan finally backed Thatcher across the Falklands, the prospect of riding with the Queen in Windsor Great Park was part of the sweetener package that was deployed. When David Cameron went to great lengths to convince Angela Merkel to support his bid to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership, British diplomats in Berlin asked what she wanted most. The answer came back: What she especially wanted was a cup of tea with the Queen.

An offer of an audience with her, or a member of the royal family, had more appeal to world leaders than all other possible incentives combined. So it’s not just Polish plumbers and American backpackers who are attracted to the Crown and make an effort to be physically present with the royal family. The world’s most powerful, most outspoken people were willing to do almost anything to meet this quiet woman who had no power at all.

The “Queen of America”. “The Queen” for France – all the credit from countries that long ago overthrew their own monarchs and made a big game out of seeing the crown as a relic of a medieval era. But its modern relevance and potency is now being re-expressed. In an era of cultural wars and clashes of civilizations, the Queen stood as a symbol and source of unity, both nationally and globally. Admiring her is something that billions of people around the world seem to agree on.

This is not about the monarchy in general. There are 27 other kings and queens in the world, eight of which are in the Arab world. But if Netflix ever makes a Saudi version of The crown it’s probably more like Narcos: Mexico than a study in character. The Queen’s behavior, her daily diary on duty, made her monarchy such a spectacular success: her power arose from her restraint. Her story is one that can only come from Britain, which is why she was always the country’s greatest individual ambassador.

From time to time, research is conducted into Britain and its worldwide reputation. Brexit may have given some newspapers and politicians heart palpitations, but it didn’t really affect how others see us. Surveys show that most people think of Britons: the musicians and athletes, the military, television and film personalities; politicians are pretty far down the list. And at the top is the monarch, whose understatement and service personify what so much of the outside world sees as British values ​​— and values ​​with global appeal.

The logistics and security for next Monday are a nightmare as it will be a gathering the likes of which the world has rarely seen, with so many presidents and prime ministers under one roof. Xi Jinping has hardly been outside Beijing since the pandemic, but is sending Wang Qishan, his vice president and right-hand man, a broadcast considered the highest mark of respect in China. Biden, 79, didn’t expect him to come because no US president has ever come here for a state funeral – but apparently he wouldn’t be stopped. The government’s practical concerns are, quite literally, about how many VVIP columns will fit on the M4.

In this way, the Queen continues to pay tribute to Great Britain. And this was perhaps her greatest gift to her country: the ability to show the world our best selves.

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