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The Queen & I: How Elizabeth won a nation's heart

In the front room of our terraced house — our "best" room — my mother kept a veneered display cabinet.It was glass on three sides, with four glass shelves, and a patched up door where my head had gone through it — the result of horseplay with my older brother.While the door had smashed, the precious contents and I survived: a bone-china cheese dish, an old ebony and mother-of-pearl snuff box
Britain's Queen Elizabeth is seen touring the Royal London Hospital in east London in this February 27, 2013 file photograph. The Queen has cancelled ...
Queen Elizabeth celebrates the 60th anniversary of her coronation on Sunday.POOL / Today

In the front room of our terraced house — our "best" room — my mother kept a veneered display cabinet.

It was glass on three sides, with four glass shelves, and a patched up door where my head had gone through it — the result of horseplay with my older brother.

While the door had smashed, the precious contents and I survived: a bone-china cheese dish, an old ebony and mother-of-pearl snuff box with great grandfather’s initials scratched on the back, some kitsch knick-knacks from trips to the seaside — and two commemorative Coronation tumblers.

One was mine, one my brother’s. Every kid in the town, so my mum told me, had been given one in honor of our new Queen. That’s when I, just four years old, knew she must be somebody important.

The writer, Chris Hampson (sitting), with his brother.Today

The tumblers were made of frosted royal blue glass, decorated with a lion and unicorn holding the Queen’s coat of arms. Above it, the emblem "EIIR." Below a red ribbon banner bearing the words: "Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, June 2nd 1953."

Sticking my head through the glass door was, if you like, the first time I came face to face with royalty. It was the closest most people ever got.

Sixty years ago, you only saw the royal family in newsreels, doing things you knew you would never get to do. They were the "rulers;" we were "subjects." They were rich; we were not. They had servants; we had ancestors who were servants.

They spoke "posh" with strangulated vowels; we spoke Lancashire with vowels as flat as the caps we wore. They rode in horse-drawn carriages; we rode donkeys on the beach at sixpence a go. They were privileged and exceptional; we were no different from most everybody else.

In short, in our street, and in thousands of streets like ours, it was "them" and it was "us." And while we were taught to respect the royal family, I couldn’t quite work out what they actually did. It was a feeling that has stayed with me most of my life.

Back then, the BBC would conclude its transmissions every evening by playing the National Anthem, as the Union Jack flag fluttered in the wind. It was the same in cinemas. Moviegoers would stand to attention at the end of the main feature film — many desperate for the final note of that dirge-like tune to fade away so they could catch the last bus home.

From unique prints to fabulous hats, the British monarch’s fashion choices often show a sense of fun. Take a look through Queen Elizabeth II’s signature looks over the years.

Before my time, the royal family had been the figureheads of a country fighting for its life against the might of Nazi Germany. In those dark and dangerous years of World War II, their courage in refusing to evacuate their family to somewhere safer had won them the respect of a grateful nation.

"The children won't go without me," the queen famously told government ministers, urging them to flee to Canada. “I won't leave without the king. And the king will never leave."

Almost eight years after the war ended, Princess Elizabeth ascended to the throne and into the warm embrace of her people. She was a "fairytale queen" at a time of renewed hope. Her accession, some said, would mark a new "Elizabethan Age" for Great Britain.

As a kid, the only Elizabethan Age I came into contact with was my Grandma Lizzie, who was older than I could count. The monarchy in its palaces wasn’t relevant to our daily lives in a house with no central heating, an outside privy, and my dad doing two jobs to make sure we could pay the rent and "get on."

He would stand up for the National Anthem with everybody else, but only grudgingly. "The royals would never stand up for me," he once explained.

Not surprising then that I wasn’t raised a monarchist, and have always felt uncomfortable around "privilege." For sure, I wasn’t a fan. But now? Sixty years on I’m having to think again.

Back in the day, the royals were a mystery to us. British newspapers were deferential, and — if there was gossip — it seldom got onto their pages.

In the 80’s all that began to change, and there was intense media interest in the private lives of this public family. Their messy divorces and marital infidelity didn’t help. The role models were behaving like the rest of us.

When Princess Diana died, the queen’s failure to identify with her grieving people made her look aloof, out-of-touch, not of our age. Time to go, perhaps?

Fast forward to the summer of 2012. Both of us have grown older, and the queen is still doing the sort of things I never got to do. At the age of 86 she appears to be jumping out of a helicopter. She’s the new "Bond girl."

It’s the Olympic opening ceremony and millions of her subjects sit on their sofas rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Her Majesty is having fun. Joining in. Making us smile. Being, if only briefly, one of us.

In the line of duty working in TV, I’d stood in cold, torrential rain a couple of months earlier watching the Diamond Jubilee flotilla sail down the Thames. She and her consort Prince Phillip were on their feet for hours, acknowledging the tens of thousands lining the banks.

I stood outside Buckingham Palace and watched them return home, still riding in a horse-drawn carriage, before appearing on the balcony in front of even more thousands of cheering people, all there to confirm her title of National Treasure.

And I thought to myself: 60 years and she’s still turning up for work every day. She’s quite a woman.

Then I remembered the souvenir tumblers that had narrowly escaped my incoming head all those years ago.

They disappeared after my mother died, and I suspect my brother took them both away, thinking his younger, unappreciative, anti-monarchist sibling had no need of his.

But that was back in the day, brother. I think it may be time to give it back to me now.