I hope you’ve had a great time this weekend, especially if you live in the UK and have been celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I’ve had a lovely time with friends watching events on TV. To be frank though, it’s disturbing that the little old lady dressed in beautiful clothes and being greeted warmly looks like my mother! I’m not fantasising here. My mother modelling herself on the Queen (she was only 2 years older) and had some of that august lady’s gravitas. (She even scowled like her!)
My mother was working class, a miner’s daughter and a bright intelligent little girl. She wrote stories and got excellent grades at the local school. She listened to the BBC Home Service. Her father was Welsh. Like many Welsh people he had great reverence for education and was saving to go to night school to educate his way out of the pit. My mother had the goal of going to grammar school and gaining a good education. She wanted to be a nurse.
The profound reversal in the life of my mother’s family came when there was a terrible accident at my grandfather’s pit. My grandfather held up a collapsing shaft on his back for 9 hours until he and the other men were rescued.My grandfather received no compensation (this was the hungry ’30s) and was incapacitated for about a year. All his savings went to support the family and then had to claim dole. My mother had to give up all ambition to get educated and had to go out to work at 14 years old.
The Second World War gave my mother the opportunity she needed. She lived in Coventry which was a centre of industrial production and got very heavily bombed. As a nursing volunteer, she was driven in a bus round devastated streets evading fire storms after bombing raids picking up the wounded. She then got the chance to train as a nurse. Working at the Worcester Royal Infirmary, she remembered the advent of penicillin (they recycled the urine of patients who’d been given the new drug because it was difficult to get hold of and was so precious) and preparations for DDay. She met my father, a former public school boy and eventually a headmaster, working at the local radar station at a dance. On marriage, she became the role model for the rest of her family since she’d jumped from working to middle class!
So unlike the life of our own dear Queen! Why am I telling you all this? Well apart from an interesting account of social history of the present Queen’s life and times, it illustrates something important about gravitas.
- True Grit: Gravitas is about having true grit and resilience. It’s about being tested by adverse circumstances and not found wanting. Remember the Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992 when three out of four of her children were getting or had got divorced with varying degrees of scandal, and then in November that year there was a fire at Windsor Castle. And still she soldiered on. My mother did the same.
- Duty: Gravitas is about duty, ‘doing the right thing’. The Queen didn’t choose to be queen. She had an outstanding role model of duty in her father. When her uncle abdicated, he left his brother, the Queen’s father (George 6th) to shoulder the burden of kingship when crippled by a debilitating stammer (subject of Academy Awarded “The King’s Speech”). It is assumed that he died young (in his early 50s) due to the stress. My mother had to give up all ambition to get educated in order to support her family.
- Courage: To have gravitas is to be brave. Our Queen meets and greets people every day whatever the level of threat from terrorism. My mother risked her life every night picking up wounded in Coventry during air raids.
- Purpose: Having gravitas is about being clear about one’s intention and purpose. The Queen dedicated her life to serve the British people. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his address today at the Diamond Jubilee Service, that commitment brings a kind of joy. My mother was clear about what she wanted to do. And eventually by dint of persistence and tenacity, she got to be a nurse. In fact, she was so outstanding, she won the Queen’s Medal for nursing.
- Hard Work. Gravitas is about commitment to learning and hard work. Whilst she has a sense of humour, the Queen takes her responsibilities very seriously. For instance, she has met her Prime Minister for an ‘audience’ every week on Thursdays for the last 60 years. Many remark on her intelligence and common sense understanding of the broad sweep of events. In my mother’s late 40s, she was in full time work when she studied for and took her ‘A’ levels and qualified with a diploma as a social worker. At last, she got her education though had had to work exceedingly hard to get it. Many’s the time my sister and I got sick of hearing repeated ravings from King Lear on the proverbial ‘blasted heath’ that my mother who was studying for English ‘A’ level played on her portable tape recorder in the car on long journeys!
- Impressive Leadership. Gravitas is a Latin word meaning “dignity, seriousness and depth of character”. It was used in connection with men who were outstanding or remarkable (yes just men in those days!). The Queen’s dignity is impeccable. Have a look at this State Opening Of Parliament as an example. My mum never lead a country or even a group of people. However she was a role model for her family and her children. She became thoroughly middle class – an achievement many of her family aspire to! And at the end of her life, she coped with serious illness with dignity and humour. When she was dying, she never complained.
Two admirable and remarkable women of gravitas.