Mal Fletcher
The Queen - A Living Lesson in Privacy Management!

As of 5:30pm (British Summer Time) on Wednesday September 9, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned longer than any other British monarch.

Given the fact that England has entertained kings and queens for more than twelve centuries and a unified Britain since 1707, this is no mean feat.

Six decades is a very long time for a person to be highly respected in any position or occupation. British public opinion still rates her and the system she represents very highly. 

A new Sky News poll has found that 75 percent of the population feel that the monarchy is integral to British culture. Seventy percent believe that Britain should remain a monarchy "forever". This is doubtless a reflection of the personal affection we feel for the Queen herself. 

That the Queen has succeeded so well is a testament to her resilience and resolve, as well as her sense of public duty. She sees her role as a vocation, a sacred trust which has been passed to her not simply by her people, but by God.

Arguably, though, another key to her longevity is her skill in managing the relationship between her public and private space.

In this lies an important lesson for the rest of us, as we increasingly share our lives, by choice or otherwise, through the prism of social media.

Elizabeth II has reigned for 63 years, seven months and four days, longer than her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Though both unusually long, their respective reigns could not have been more different.

Where Victoria spent half of her reign largely hidden from public view, by choice, Elizabeth II has remained a relatively public monarch.

In fact, aware of the need for the monarchy to seem accessible – even if it is, for the most part, not – she herself has observed, ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’

Queen Victoria died in the same year that Guglielmo Marconi conducted the first trans-Atlantic radio transmission. This was more than two decades before the invention of television.

Victoria was not familiar with mass media as we know it. Yet for much of her reign she chose to remain largely an aloof figure even to the domestic press outlets of her time.

By contrast, Elisabeth II stepped into her role just as mass media was becoming a truly global phenomenon. She could have seen this either as an immense intrusion and something to be resisted at all costs. Victoria would likely have done so.

Instead, the present monarch has walked largely in step with changes in media technologies during her reign – or, at most, no more than a step behind.

She agreed that her Coronation in 1953 should be televised, so that as many people as possible could share it. The events was viewed by an estimated 27 million people in Britain, with 11 million more listening on radio. The population of Britain at the time was just over 36 million.

For someone in her position, the Queen has been unusually accessible to media outlets. Her first Christmas radio address was broadcast in 1952. Her first televised Christmas speech came in 1957.

That was the year of my birth and from that time on, these addresses, though sometimes a little stiff in their presentation, were a staple part of my childhood Christmases in Australia. As they were for millions of others living in Commonwealth countries.

This December 25, my first grandchild will likely also hear the Queen speak to what she considers to be her family of nations.

There have been times when media interest in her immediate family has proven intrusive and perhaps, though she is normally too skilfully diplomatic to say so, offensive.

Yet her actions and demeanour suggest that she has accepted the public’s interest in her, albeit on her terms. She has, thankfully, carefully avoided becoming a celebrity in the way that some contemporary monarchs have done.

As a result, her measured accessibility has not destroyed the mystique that seems to be a necessary part of longevity in such a role.

From time to time, Elizabeth II has also granted her warrant for the filming of television specials. She has even embraced new media, via a Facebook site.

Yes, it is run by courtiers and you can’t have a social media conversation with the woman herself, but the principle of engagement is important in itself.

Of all the leaders of the modern world, she has perhaps managed her public appearances the most artfully. She has not revealed too much, yet has allowed her public to feel that they know her at least passably well.

This careful management of her public profile and her fierce protection of private time is a key reason for her continued success.

One prominent historian recently suggest that Elizabeth II has not contributed much of historical importance, given her unwillingness to throw herself into debates or speak out on issues.

Yet, say those who’ve worked with her, this refusal to speak publicly should not be mistaken for a lack interest or thoughtfulness.

Her various Prime Ministers have often attested to her keen mind and sharp wit – and her absolute grasp of matters of state.

It’s impossible to know just how much the Queen really understands the daily lives and experiences of the people she seeks to serve.

Yet, having spoken one-on-one to more of them than any of her subjects can ever hope to, she obviously has some sense of the challenges and opportunities people face.

Among those is a challenge she is perhaps uniquely qualified to address.

An Ipsos-Mori report this week suggested that British adults, as a whole, glance at smartphone screens 1.1 billion times every 24 hours.

That’s 28 times per adult over the age of 18 (heaven only knows what the figure is for people younger than that).

We spend an average of 90 minutes per day on non-voice activities on smartphones – three times the amount in 2012. Our conversation, it seems, is via messaging services and increasingly ubiquitous social media.

In much of this activity, we are adding to the databases of some of history’s biggest companies and near-monopolies.

At the same time, we increasingly blur the line between what is considered private and what is open to outside scrutiny.

Many of us seem unable to cope with the notion that, at any given time, we are not represented in the collective stream of consciousness that is social media.

In the process of publishing and promoting our everyday activities and opinions, we potentially expose ourselves to identity theft and, even more subversively, the shrinkage of our private thinking space.

As a result, we may unwittingly compromise our self-respect and the respect others have for us. If not outright contempt, familiarity can certainly breed complacency.

Perhaps we should withdraw a little more, thus potentially allowing our opinions to carry more weight when we do have something to share.

The Queen has demonstrated that one can be accessible to the outside world, without pandering to rampant voyeurism. In this, as in so much else, she has set a fine example for us all.

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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