When the Queen was born in 1926, millions of women in the UK still could not vote, radio was the hot new thing, and women wearing trousers was still seriously outré.
It might be painfully clichéd and obvious (it’s been a long 10 days) but the world that Her Majesty entered 96 years ago is nearly unthinkably different to the one that she left behind this month.
Except at times like this, when it would appear that no one has quite managed to inform the royal family of the 21st century’s advent. (Wait until they hear about shorts…)
Look at any of the deluge of images you will see today (they are unavoidable) of the young Prince George and Princess Charlotte at their great-grandmother’s funeral and they could have been taken any time over the last century.
In the photos of the second and third in line to the throne, the two children look like Edwardian throwbacks or antique dolls. (Very adorable ones, but still.)
Watch this video of the royal party outside Westminster Abbey when Her Majesty’s coffin is driven away: The Princess and Camilla, Queen Consort execute textbook curtsies while the two kids, despite no doubt hours of careful instruction and practicing, awkwardly follow suit, several beats late .
When I look at this video I don’t see cute; I see something that makes me distinctly uncomfortable.
George and Charlotte might have started popping up during major royal events with increasing frequency over the last year such as at Prince Philip’s memorial service, Platinum Jubilee celebrations, and for the Prince, in the royal box at Wimbledon, but none of those outings are even remotely on par with what they were expected to sit through yesterday.
Even watching the Queen’s funeral, it was a truly overwhelming spectacle. This was the biggest state event, perhaps in history, involving more than 4000 military personnel, up to two million people lined the streets and more than 100 heads of state, all with a live global TV audience forecast to be in the billions.
Just imagine the pressure, the weight of the occasion that brought to bear down on their far-too-small shoulders.
Is it any wonder then that at times during the service and then slow-moving procession from Westminster Abbey, past Buckingham Palace and to Wellington Arch, George and Charlotte looked saucer-eyed and bewildered?
There is a certain irony that, as they stood in Westminster Abbey, forced to assume quasi-official roles despite barely having managed to get their pen licences, they coincidentally proved Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex right on one point.
Since striding off into the Californian sunset to join the vacuous ranks of LA celebrity in 2020, one of the Sussexes’ key gripes about The Firm was the fact that the monarchy chews up and spits out individuals to further the ends of the institution. Never mind the personal suffering, never mind the trauma caused or the emotional scars dealt, all that matters is the survival of the archaic beast.
Harry was forced to walk behind his mother’s coffin while still a child; Meghan’s mental health issues during first pregnancy went not only unchecked but coldly disregarded. Didn’t they know? The Crown always comes first.
To that end, Goerge and Charlotte were not inside the Abbey to say goodbye to their Gan Gan, they were there to perform and they were there to sell a carefully considered image of continuity and unity, along with adding a spoonful of cutesy sugar to counteract the vinegary presence of the Sussexes.
Without being too blunt, Her Majesty’s funeral was not only a chance to celebrate an extraordinary woman, life and reign, but a regal marketing opportunity par excellence. How could they pass up the chance to try to convert a few royal sceptics into at least palace-curious via a couple of adorable kids?
Before the funeral, the Daily Mail reported: “Senior palace advisers have asked the Prince and Princess of Wales to consider allowing Prince George to attend the state funeral of the Queen tomorrow because of the powerful symbolic message it would send.”
One insider told the Mail: “Courtiers are keen for Prince George to be at the funeral in some capacity, if only to reassure the nation of the order of succession.”
Never mind that he’s a nine-year-old boy – there’s a country that’s feeling a bit antsy! Quick, find that tiny suit.
I am not criticizing William and Kate here, I am simply pointing out there is no glossing over the fact that royal parenting requires a begrudging willingness to serve up one’s children for the good of the Crown. I’m sure that’s not easy for the Waleses or something they want to put their children through, but that doesn’t make it any less queasy to watch.
Also, before anyone makes the argument that George and Charlotte were only part of proceedings so that they too could farewell their great-grandmother, that case falls apart when you take a look at the images of inside St George’s Chapel taken during the committal service.
There in the front row are Princess Anne’s grandchildren, Mia, 8, and Lena Tindall, 4, and Peter Phillips’ children Savannah, 11, and Isla, 10. This service, far less daunting and far less of a sensory overload, was the right place for George and Charlotte to take part.
Neither of the young Waleses has hit double digits and yet the monarchy is making demands of them, is already expecting them to deliver themselves up for the greater regal good.
Duty and service were the lodestars of Her Majesty’s reign, and so too they will be for George and Charlotte, like it or not.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal expert with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.