On Friday 9 September, BGS Senior School gathered for an extraordinary assembly to recognise the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Below is the text of the speech our Headmaster, Jaideep Barot, gave.
"We are gathered for this extraordinary assembly, to recognise the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Joining the Deputy Heads of School and me at the front here is Mr Romesh Vaitilingam, Chair of the Governing Body of BGS. Years 7 and 8 are down in the Mackinnon Theatre, hearing this very same assembly, from Miss Davies.
"As we gather together to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we are a marking a significant point in history.
"Queen Elizabeth II was born in 1926, and she became Queen aged 25, in 1952 following the death of her father King George VI. At her coronation she stated to her country:
“Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust”
"She has been our longest serving British monarch, reigning for a remarkable 70 years. Indeed, for everyone in this room she will be the only Monarch we have ever known. It feels very strange that this constant presence in our lives has gone. Our Head of State has changed. The wording of our national anthem will change, our coins, the initials on state documents, references to King Charles III, will change.
"Queen Elizabeth II had been on the throne through many significant events in history including the independence of the countries of the British empire; space exploration and the first man to walk on the moon; technological changes in transport and computing; the development and end of the Cold War in 1989 and the demolition of the Berlin wall or in 2001 when the Twin Towers were attacked and the resultant war on terror. Winston Churchill was her first prime minister. She welcomed the first female British Prime minister and confirmed the appointment of the current Prime Minister on Tuesday, as one of her last acts of state. There was no Head of State more experienced that Queen Elizabeth II.
"During her time as Queen, she has held weekly meetings with 15 different prime ministers, met 13 of the 14 US presidents and 4 different Popes who have been in place over her reign.
"Ordinary people’s lives changed in this time too. Fridges, washing machines, televisions and vacuum cleaners, and later PCs, laptops, iPhones - transformed homes and social lives. Women have joined the workforce; old working-class communities changed as work and housing changed; society became mobile, more individualised and diverse, uprooted from old certainties and loyalties. Britain, the British, and the world beyond our shores, feels almost unrecognisable from when she became monarch.
"In crisis Queen Elizabeth II reassured us, reminding us that we are all part of something that stretches back through time.
"At 14 years old, as Princess Elizabeth, she broadcast to the nation’s children during the Blitz, to reassure and comfort them as bombs came down during WW2, and her calm authoritative presence was a constant. Her regular addresses, including in 2020 amidst the COVID crisis sought to reassure us that we would get through it. We will endure. Hers was a constant and reassuring presence.
"At times her work might have looked glamorous - the Royal Yacht, the Queen's flight, banquets, and galas - and before international air travel became commonplace, it was an extraordinary experience. But it was always hard work, long days and weeks of meeting and greeting, making small talk, having lunches with officials, state dinners and speeches given and listened to patiently. Those who have observed royal tours find it hard to imagine it is much fun.
"Queen Elizabeth was a public figure, but also a very private person. In an age of influencers and people openly sharing sometimes quite extreme emotions, she did not allow a lot of media presence or journalist access. She was not keen to share her emotions. But from the people who have meet her they described her as kind, compassionate and accessible to all, with a real ability to put people at ease. She also had a great sense of humour, as witnessed in the opening of the London Olympics where she appeared with James Bond and more recently at the Commonwealth Games where she recorded a film with Paddington bear.
"She also believed in constancy, and in service. In a recent speech she said:
"When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people and I asked for God's help to make good that vow. … I do not regret, or retract, one word of it."
"There will be many people who will proclaim in coming weeks what the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II might be. I would suggest to you that if in our lives we can take one lesson from the life of Queen Elizabeth it might be this – that in service we give to others, we show our love for one another as people and we make our communities stronger.
"So, what will happen in the country now? A period of national mourning will now take place across the country, and this will include, for example, the cancelling of sporting events, flags being flown at half-mast, and books of condolences will be opened across the country. There will also be chances for people across the nation to pay their respects in the coming days as her body is transported back to London where she will lie in State before the funeral.
"It won’t just be in Britain that her loss is felt. As the Head of the Commonwealth, her death will be felt by millions around the world, for many she has been an inspiration, a much-admired figurehead and role model. Nations all around the world will be marking her passing.
"We will all be affected differently by this news, and you might also be asking: how should I respond? The reality is that we will all respond in different ways and at different times. Situations like this can also trigger feelings like grief that we have over someone we have lost in the past. Showing each other kindness and compassion is crucial at this time, so we ask you all to show this to your friends, families, and the BGS community.
"All the usual pastoral avenues of support are open to you. Following this assembly, you will be returning to your form rooms with your form tutor and head of house who will remain available to you as normal, but please do go to any trusted adult that you feel comfortable talking with.
"We will, in a moment, stand for a minute’s silence, after which Mr Guerrini will play the national anthem – this is for us to listen to and is played as a mark of respect; we will not sing along to it. After that, please remain in silence as we leave the stage and as staff leave the Great Hall, before you are dismissed by Miss Ripley.
"So, may I ask you now to please stand, for a minute’s silent reflection on the extraordinary life of service of Queen Elizabeth II."