The Queen’s health: Why there are concerns after missing Royal Ascot event

For the first time in more than 70 years, the Queen has missed a key event. And it is raising questions about her health of Her Majesty.

Sometimes royal life is just too bananas for words. For more than 70 years, the Queen has been an immutable presence at that annual festival of horseflesh and frippery, Royal Ascot, with millions of pounds bet each year on what color chapeau Her Majesty would turn up wearing.

Such is the money to be made on this one wager that in 2019, the Queen’s longtime dresser and BFF Angela Kelly revealed that decoy hats are made to prevent any palace staffers getting an inside track on the betting.

Spare a thought then today for Ascot bookies whose takings were that much lower this week after – dramatic pause here – Her Majesty skipped the entirety of the race meet for first time in 70 years.

While the 96-year-old might have missed the State Opening of Parliament three times during her time on the throne, eschewed Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph and handed Buckingham Palace garden party duty off to the royal young 'uns she has never, ever skipped all five-days of the horsey festivities. Ever.

You have to understand here, this is not just another jolly knees-up, a chance to have a sly lunchtime glass of champers and a lengthy gossip about fetlocks and bloodlines with her racing manager, rather than having to wade through her red box or listen to Boris Johnston whinge about Brussels. Her Majesty is a woman obsessed with all things equine and while she might have committed herself to a lifetime of dogged regal duty she has nearly equally devoted it to all things four-legged and hay-loving.

Look no further than the fact that while the Queen might have never granted a single interview in her life but in March, despite ongoing health problems, she agreed to take part in a documentary for the ITV Racing channel with footage showing her happily feeding carrots to foals on her Sandringham estate.

In the same Queen-sanctioned book in which Kelly revealed the decoy hat gambit she also said that “only in extreme circumstances would Her Majesty not attend” Ascot.

“Extreme circumstances” have clearly arrived.

Ascot now joins the ever-growing list of formally sacrosanct events which have been struck from the Queen’s calendar as she continues to experience what Buckingham Palace is terming “episodic mobility problems.”

Even during her Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this month, thrown to mark a truly historic milestone, she was only up to appearing in public for a grand total of 27 minutes over four days.

Whatever is ailing her, currently nothing short of a miracle (and given she’s the head of an entire religion one would have to assume she has a hotline to God) is going to see any sort of marked improvement here.

The sad truth is, we now have a limbo Queen, a monarch who rules in name only and who has tucked herself away in some gothic monstrosity while her children and grandchildren go out into the world and rep the House of Windsor.

We may now not see her in public again for months, possibly until mid to late September.

July would normally see the Queen head north to Scotland, first for Holyrood Week, her annual stay at her Edinburgh palace, along with the annual garden party held there, and for the biennial service for the Order of the Thistle service, the oldest Scottish chivalric order.

Her Majesty then normally tootles further north for a couple of months of R & R and midge-bites on her 50,000-acre Deeside estate only to re-emerge into public view in September.

It’s more likely that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall will turn up to her next official engagement wearing hot pants than Her Majesty will take part in any of these formerly non-negotiable Scottish events next month.

Sure, courtiers have probably planned a few Zoom engagements between now and when the nonagenarian starts her annual summer holiday at Balmoral, if nothing more than to prove to the world that she is still alive if not exactly kicking, but it all just seems so pitiful .

Watching her reign sputter out in a series of canceled events is an exercise in ever increasing levels of pathos and dismay.

What the UK and the Commonwealth now face is this uneasy No Man’s Land between reigns. The Queen is obviously still technically sovereign but she ca n’t actually do any queening that takes away from the couch and Prince Charles is out there opening things with gusto but is technically still only a prince.

This week the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) kicks off in Rwanda and there flying the flag will be Charles along with Camilla, just the latest in the ever-growing list of headline events which he now acts in his mother’s stead.

He might not be the most popular member of the royal family but he has become, especially in the last year, the public face of the monary, on the world stage, at the State Opening of parliament, at Garter Day, at Ascot, and now CHOGM too.

The center cannot hold.

This cobbled together co-sovereign situation does not inspire much faith given that the monarchy is in a particularly dicey place right now.

In February, Prine Andrew paid Virginia Giuffre a reported $22.5 million to settle the civil sex abuse case she had brought against him in an attempt to draw a line under the sordid crisis. (He has always strenuously denied her allegations that he sexually assaulted her on three occasions when she was a teenager.)

However, the fallout from Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein continues. Over the weekend, the Mirror broke the news that the lawyers in the US are prepared to subpoena the 62-year-old in order to get a statement from him, claiming that he was at Epstein’s New York mansion on the night that the financier raped a young woman.

Meanwhile, in California the restless Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shown no indication they are done with their truth-telling offensive. He, of course, has a memoir in the works while they are both reportedly filming an “at-home” docu-series for Netflix.

Will they be able to fill hours and hours of content without once delving into the royal trauma they say they suffered? Perhaps the better question is, what sort of juicy tidbits or headline-grabbing revelations might the streaming giant be expecting in return for the $140 million they are reportedly paying them for this and other projects?

My point is here, after years of being buffeted by PR crisis after PR catastrophe, what the institution of the monarchy very badly needs right now is clear and decisive leadership.

Instead, the whole outfit feels rudderless.

What seems likely is that the Duke of York will continue to try and stage comeback attempts, interspersed with possible new Epstein-related legal dramas; the Sussexes will at some point churn out some content which may or may not pants the royal family; the Queen will continue to disappear from view and Charles will do things to make himself look positively kingly.

How is the Palace going to get through the next year, with a royal autobiography, the Sussexes' don’t-call-it-a-reality-show series and whatever fresh Andrew-related hell crops up, if they don’t have some sort of steadying public presence at the top?

Would anyone invest in an ASX top 20 company if the CEO was in such a bad way that they had no choice but to go off to live in rural seclusion and only appeared briefly via video call once-a-month? This is an untenable situation which seems unlikely to be sorted out anytime soon, potentially to the monarchy’s long-last detriment.

So, where was the Queen last week if she wasn’t at Ascot, you might ask?

She was at home at her apartments inside Windsor Castle watching all five days of racing on the TV. (Given how famously careful the Queen is with money, I’m assuming she still has a squat color set with rabbit ears and a footman on permanent hand to twiddle them to ensure the best signal.)

Here’s hoping she at least put a pound here and there on some winners to cheer herself up.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with Australia’s leading media titles.


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