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Royal commentator on what comes next following the death of Queen Elizabeth II


Queen Elizabeth II has died at age 96. She was the longest ruling monarch in British history. Richard Fitzwilliams is a long time royal watcher and commentator who is here to discuss her legacy and what comes next. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

RICHARD FITZWILLIAMS: A very, very sad day. I feel a quote on the death of her father - as the sunset of her death tinged the whole world's sky. People will remember where they were today when they heard the sad news.

SHAPIRO: Well, I'd love to talk about the earliest days of her more than 70 years on the throne because she was never supposed to be queen. Tell us about how she ascended.

FITZWILLIAMS: Indeed, not. Her parents, the duke and duchess of York - he was a naval officer. He was the last person you would expect to become king. He was shy. He had a stammer. He was very much in the shadow of his colorful brother, who was the heir to the throne and who later became Edward VIII. What had happened was that he abdicated in order to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson. And this later proved an enormous blessing. But it left the burden on someone ill-equipped. George VI was someone - he was a family man. I mean, I do think that the queen was inspired by her father because his dedication to duty, I think, lent very much to her own in 1947, the famous broadcast where, at the age of 21, she dedicated her whole life to the Commonwealth, which was very much in the ways that she was brought up. But it must have been rather daunting.

SHAPIRO: She remained popular even as other members of the royal family were shaken by scandals. Do you think now that she has passed, it may be a crisis point for the institution of the monarchy in Britain?

FITZWILLIAMS: I don't think so because it goes back over a thousand years by Cromwell's Protectorate. I do think that it had difficult periods - in the 1860s when Albert died and Victoria went into seclusion; in 1930s, the abdication of Edward VIII; and in the 1990s, leading up to the death of the princess of Wales. I mean, the - that was a ghastly decade for the royal family. And you refer to different period now, which has been extremely difficult - Prince Andrew in disgrace; duke and duchess of Sussex estranged and feeling very bitter.

Nonetheless, looking to the future, I think that William and Katherine and their children, I believe, will be the future of a monarchy that may be altered. It does from time to time, whether it's the fact that princes marry for love, which they always should have been able to, you could argue, but they couldn't. Charles had a restriction there. The monarchy is a changing institution. Some people think it's archaic because it's hereditary. But the facts are that she was someone people could identify with in the sense that they knew she would never let them down. And also it was known what her enthusiasms were. Her love of horses - she was an international equine expert. Those corgis were, which, of course, had a certain charm. And which other head of state could possibly go with James Bond in a helicopter to the Olympic Games and parachute...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

FITZWILLIAMS: (Inaudible) Grant an audience to "Paddington" - I mean, that was - the queen was a wonderful mimic. When I met her, she had a delightful sense of humor, and this was one example.

SHAPIRO: How does her absence shift the center of gravity in the U.K., in the royal family and in the levers of power?

FITZWILLIAMS: Very considerably, I suspect, because she had obviously sagacity and was made - was known that she was someone who was respected worldwide. And I don't think that the monarchy itself will be in any way endangered. I do think it will change. And I do think that King Charles and Queen Camilla will be controversial in some respects, especially there are still those who remember Diana, princess of Wales, and the unhappy period over 25 years ago now, of course. That was a tragic death. The facts are, however, that looking forward, I would expect as Britain struggles, which it is undoubtedly doing at the moment, you are going to have a series of crises as accustomed to being in crises now. There's a post-Brexit crisis as to what Britain's identity will be. With the queen at the helm, people felt most secure. It remains entirely a question mark of what they will feel in the coming months and years.

SHAPIRO: That's royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams. Thank you very much.

FITZWILLIAMS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
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