Has it really been just a week since we heard the news that Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch in our history, had passed away peacefully at Balmoral Castle?
The fact that she was 96 didn’t make it any easier for us. We all had this strange idea she’d go on for ever - she was such a fixture in our lives, here in Hampstead, all over London, across England and around the globe.
Talking to people in our north London neighbourhood, regulars who come to La Gaffe for dinner, as well as tourists who are staying with us at present, it’s hard not to get the feeling that she was ‘one of us’. Even though none of us had ever met her personally, we all related to her, we all respected and admired her and we all thought she was special.
As our General Manager Lorenzo put it so well, ‘She was like everyone’s mum’.
It’s hard to believe that when she came to the throne, Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister, Stalin was still in power in Russia and most families in the UK didn’t own a tv set, let alone a car. For almost everyone in this country, Elizabeth II is all we’ve ever known - renowned for ‘power dressing’ in block colours, her famous handbag (in which she kept sweets for her grandchildren and treats for the Corgis, apparently) and her mischievous smile, she had to be the most famous woman in the world.
What will the country be like without her now? It’s going to be strange, for sure.
The outpouring of sentiments in the capital has been astonishing - from crowds at Buckingham Palace to floral tributes all across Green Park; from digital images of Her Majesty at Piccadilly Circus to signs of condolence in windows of the capital’s theatres, bookshops and department stores. Fortnum and Mason, who famously had a Royal Warrant, have even blacked out their windows in memory of her.
When our founders, Bernardo and Androulla Stella, opened La Gaffe in 1965, in leafy Hampstead, the Queen was already a decade into her reign. Over the last sixty years Bernardo - who loves to write plays and poetry - actually penned several poems to her, in honour of occasions such as her Jubilees, and even received a couple of replies from her courtiers!
Another true story - back in the day, Androulla used to wow visitors with her special chicken liver pate and rumour has it that the Queen Mother was so enamoured with it, she sent staff to Hampstead to buy it for her. Whilst we have no ‘proof’ per se, it’s no urban myth and if you ever had the opportunity to sample Androulla’s cooking (she was our chef for many years) you’ll nod your head and say “Of course it’s true.”
Whatever your thoughts about the monarchy, again - as our manager Lorenzo said - there’s no doubt that Queen Elizabeth commanded enormous respect from the public and Charles III surely has some big shoes to fill. But in the midst of the sadness, let us give thanks for her remarkable life - her wisdom, her dignity, her mischievous smile, and stand in awe at the tremendous service she gave to her country.
As a Queen, a mother and grandmother, a woman who blazed a trail (at a time when women were supposed to know their place)...as a monarch, a ‘diplomat’ and the best ambassador to the country possible, no wonder there are queues stretching back miles in central London, in order to file past her coffin. No wonder the Mall and Whitehall had to be cordoned off for her departure from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, And no wonder the country will grind to a halt on the day of her State Funeral.
Your Majesty, Ma’am, Queen Elizabeth…you were remarkable. We will not see another monarch like you, that much we know.
Thank you for everything!