In Depth

A look back at Queen Elizabeth’s ‘no-fuss’ approach to illness

The monarch has skipped relatively few engagements over the years

The Queen has pulled out of attending next week’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in person, where she had been due to host a major reception with world leaders.

In a statement, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said the world’s longest-reigning monarch had “regretfully decided” not to attend the high-profile event. “Her Majesty is disappointed not to attend the reception but will deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded video message,” the spokesperson added. 

The news came just a week after the 95-year-old Queen pulled out of a two-day trip to Northern Ireland, following her doctors’ advice to rest. That evening, she stayed overnight at King Edward VII’s Hospital in Marylebone, central London, where she received some preliminary medical checks – her first overnight stay at a medical facility in eight years, The Guardian reported. 

Seeing the Queen uncharacteristically pulling out of her public engagements has been a “startling reminder that the British monarch – a visible, steadfast staple for seven decades – will not be around forever”, wrote Elise Taylor for US Vogue

Her hospital stay followed a busy few weeks of appointments, from marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion at Westminster Abbey to opening the sixth term of the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament, in Cardiff. The evening before her medical checks, she had hosted a drinks reception at Windsor Castle for business leaders including Bill Gates.

The Queen is “known for her hard work ethic”, and “despite her age she racks up a staggering number of royal duties every year”, said the Daily Express.

In 2019, she attended 295 public engagements, averaging between five to six each week. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, she kept up her commitments, undertaking “Zoom engagements” and giving what the BBC described as a “rallying message to the nation”

During her 69-year reign, the monarch has had to drop out of relatively few of her many hundreds of engagements owing to ill health. Most recently, she cancelled a scheduled visit to the Women’s Institute branch in Sandringham, Norfolk, in January 2020 because she was “not feeling up to it”. Before that, she missed a Westminster Abbey service in June 2018 because she was “under the weather”, and did not attend the Christmas and New Year’s Day services at St Mary Magdalene church in Sandringham in 2016 due to a “heavy” cold.

But after she had surgery to remove a cataract in 2018, the Queen didn’t cancel any engagements but simply wore sunglasses to events including the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Her “no-fuss” approach to injury and illness was perfectly demonstrated in 1994, wrote Laura Elston in the London Evening Standard. During a ride on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, her horse tripped. She “simply brushed herself down, remounted her horse and trotted on back to Sandringham”, said Elston. It took “almost 24 hours” for a broken wrist to be diagnosed.

Earlier this month, the Queen declined The Oldie magazine’s “Oldie of the Year” award, which annually celebrates the achievements of the older generation. 

In a letter to the awards’ chair, Gyles Brandreth, the Queen’s assistant private secretary declined on her behalf, writing: “Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept, and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient.”

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