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Tina Brown on Elizabeth II: "The monarchy was incredibly lucky that it is she who inherited the throne"

Tina Brown on the Queen's mystique
Tina Brown on the Queen's mystique 05:38

"The Queen had a wonderfully dry and ironic sense of humor," said CBS News contributor Tina Brown, author of "The Palace Papers."

As dry as a James Bond martini, as evidenced during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. Her Majesty stole the show opposite Daniel Craig's 007.

Brown said, "Her whole family were kept out of the secret, and were astonished when they saw the Queen, as it seemed, descending from a parachute over the stadium! Prince William and Harry were heard to shout, 'Go, Granny, go!'"

Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by James Bond (Daniel Craig) and her Corgis, depart for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Olympics/YouTube

Correspondent Mo Rocca said, "I think you wrote that she actually said, 'I think I should have a line in this'?"

"That's exactly right. Yeah, she really got into it. The Queen was a great performer, is the truth, by that time. She was a natural. She spent all her life on stage, and she obviously thoroughly enjoyed thespian moments."

James Bond and The Queen London 2012 Performance by Olympics on YouTube

Always acting the part, though never "acting out"

Brown said, "The Queen came from the tradition espoused by her grandmother, Queen Mary, who famously said, 'We are the royal family. We're never tired, and we all love hospitals.'"

"Smiling through maximum discomfort is their most priceless skill," said Rocca.

"That is exactly right. The Queen never portrayed how she was feeling at any point. Did not portray fatigue, irritation, or actually even enjoyment, really. Her poker face was a strategic device, essentially."

"I'm wondering, for someone who never gave an interview, who never really expressed a political opinion, why do so many of us feel close to her?"

"The Queen's mystique was really created by the fact that we never knew what she thought about anything," Brown replied. "But her reassuring presence at every moment of our lives, in expressions of national joy, expressions of national anxiety, she has been there for us as the matriarch, essentially, of the nation. The only kind of recognizable, familiar, encouraging thing in a very, very turbulent world."

It's difficult to imagine anyone else addressing a global audience, as she did in April 2020, with the same bedside manner.

"Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it."

"She clearly felt that it was her role to be the comforter-in-chief and allay the tremendous anxieties of her people in the darkest days of the pandemic," said Brown. "And the address that she made from Windsor Castle was enormously moving because she ended it by saying, 'We will meet again,' which evoked World War II. ... And the British people were consoled."

"We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again."

The Queen's April 5, 2020 broadcast on the Coronavirus pandemic:

'We will meet again' - The Queen's Coronavirus broadcast | BBC by BBC on YouTube

Rocca said, "It's interesting, though, because she could evoke history and never sound fusty about it, right?"

"Well, because the Queen was history," Brown replied. "She had a personal recollection of every single meaningful figure of the 20th and early 21st century. So, this wasn't history. This was just personal recollection."

While she seemed unflappable to the public, at home her concerns could be refreshingly relatable.

"I talked to a woman who had been a girlfriend of Prince Charles who was at Windsor Castle one weekend. And the Queen apparently was extremely flustered about being overcharged on her heating bill. And this was a person who still, you know, would walk through the castle at night turning off the lights, if she thought that they had been left on rather wantonly. She was known to return lemon slices back on the tea tray if they hadn't been used."

"Where do you think the frugality came from?" asked Rocca.

"The Queen's frugality was part of the ethic of World War II and its rationing. She was always very, very careful when it came to spending, as was Prince Philip, who once sent a 45-year-old pair of trousers to be tailored. 'Cause he felt there was still use there for him!"

When it came to matters of state, she almost always got it right. In 2011 she became the first British monarch to visit Ireland since the country's independence from Great Britain. "She was going there to show the pageantry of détente, and she spoke what became iconic words at the state banquet when she spoke of the need for reconciliation and said, 'We must bow to the past, but not be bound by it.'"

"So, it wasn't a formal apology?"

"The Queen doesn't do apologies," Brown said. "She does regret. David Cameron, the prime minister at the time, said, 'Every one of her well-chosen words healed a wound of history.'"

To use the modern expression she might not have, Elizabeth II understood the assignment.

"Her longevity gave her a remarkable perspective. But she always took the long view. And in fact, even as a very young girl, her serious-mindedness was noted by everybody. The monarchy was incredibly lucky that it is she who inherited the throne because, temperamentally, she actually was in tune with the job at hand."

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Story produced by Kay Lim. Editor: Mike Levine. 

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