SStanding solemnly outside Buckingham Palace, Kamala Thiagaras said she vividly remembers the day Queen Elizabeth II got married. While a student at a Catholic church, she and her classmates had cakes, cookies and chocolate to celebrate.
“We will remember her until we die. We were happy to be there when she was queen and she ruled us like we were in the Commonwealth,” said Thiagaras, who is Sri Lankan.
But speaking to her grandchildren last night after news of the Queen’s death swept the country, no sadness could be registered in their response, Thiagaras, 80, recalled.
“Our generation, we all felt sad when we heard the news. But the kids, I think, these days they think it’s something that happens, they take it as it comes.
It was an exchange that revealed a fault line between an older generation commemorating an era-defining monarch whose work ethic, sense of duty and stoicism have been known all their lives, and a younger generation with whom the institution of the monarchy resounds less.
Despite the division, the feeling among the crowd of a thousand who continue to gather outside Buckingham Palace is overwhelmingly one of loss and sadness.
Shahid Khan, a 19-year-old royalist from Cardiff, assumed the generational divide was circumstantial.
“With the younger generation, I guess we don’t have that situation to pull ourselves together,” Khan said of his peers. “I feel like that’s one reason they’re not connecting.”
Should the disconnect surprise us? During her 70-year reign, the Queen has witnessed seismic changes in technological development, industry, economy and social life across the world, many of which have been reduced to footnotes history for young adults.
The Queen was the head of state of 15 other countries, all of which were once part of the former British Empire. For seven decades, she was at the head of the Commonwealth, whose 54 countries have 2.1 billion inhabitants, or a third of the world’s population.
For many, a figurehead they had long revered suddenly disappeared. Bentley Roach, 77, from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, has spent his life admiring the Queen.
“I’m from the Caribbean, a Commonwealth country, so people of my generation, we don’t know anyone else,” Roach said. “I feel loyalty to the monarchy. This does not mean that if countries become independent, it is the right of the people to choose where they want to go. I respect that.”
By contrast, for some Britons, the Queen’s death has rekindled conflicting emotions from a colonial past. “We have a connection to the Commonwealth, whether it’s a good thing or not,” said a woman who asked not to be named, for whom the Queen’s work ethic and duty to duty are values to which she identifies as Sri Lankan of British descent.
“You can never forget the wrongs of the past,” she added. “I have a lot to be grateful for in this country, but I’m also aware of my heritage and the struggles people have.”
For others, like Kylie Benson, whose family hails from Belize, the queen was the “driving force” of her community, whose reign provided a sense of stability.
“She meant a lot to me and my family,” Benson, 32, said. “Coming from one of her Commonwealth countries, she brought this country up, and when it actually got independence, it changed – to be honest, politics isn’t as good as it used to be. when it was under the reign of the Queen. I always said that if I was there I would vote against the independence of the British colony.
Speaking with several young adults, the emotional response to life without the Queen was less obvious. “I think everyone is wondering the same thing – if the monarchy is going to go on for much longer,” said 21-year-old Ellie Cheek.
For her friend Yele, 24, who did not want to share her last name, the royal family is a staple of British culture. It depends, she says, on who is ready to say goodbye.
“It will depend on each person. I know for some people, like outside of the UK, maybe in the Caribbean islands, they’re ready to part with it. But I really think it’s hard…” she panted.
Steph Hamilton, 32, who described the royal family as privileged and unrepresentative, said it was a historic moment. She traveled to Buckingham Palace from Shake Shack when news of the Queen’s death broke on Thursday afternoon.
“I don’t care too much about the monarchy,” said Hamilton, who predicted the Queen’s death would have a huge impact. For example: “What’s going on with the Commonwealth?” The fact that we have a king is a little weird.