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Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: A Life in Decades – 1990s

Our series continues with a look at The Queen Mother during the 1990s.

Whilst the 1980s had been a decade to look back on with positivity for the Royal Family, the 1990s would prove much more turbulent.

The Queen Mother, still carrying out numerous engagements, would celebrate her 90th birthday on August 4 1990.

Although her birthday was two months away, the 90th birthday celebrations culminated with a ceremony on Horse Guards Parade on 27 June. In a speech given during the ceremony, Her Majesty thanked the members of the three Armed Forces for their efforts in the birthday celebrations and paid tribute to those organisations and charities of which she was a Patron or otherwise associate with. She said: “Through the years, I have watched and admired the great work they are all doing.”

The Queen Mother also thanked those who had travelled long distances to join in the celebrations, adding that she was “deeply touched that they should go to such trouble to join in this splendid gathering.”

A number of honours were made in celebration of the birthday including a promotion to Commander of the Royal Victorian Order for Lord Sinclair who was appointed as an Extra Equerry to The Queen Mother in 1953.

1990 also saw Downing Street welcome John Major as Prime Minister, succeeding Margaret Thatcher.

Problems had already started to show within The Prince and Princess of Wales’s marriage and, two years after The Queen Mother turned 90, it was announced that they were to separate.

As fire ravaged Windsor Castle in 1992, on the 45th wedding anniversary of The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen Mother supported her daughter through the particularly distressing time. In the ensuing aftermath and argument about funding the castle’s restoration, The Civil List would be completely revised. The Queen Mother was spared and would continue to be covered, with The Queen funding the remainder of her family through her private income.

The tensions between Charles and Diana were now beginning to rise. The Queen Mother made her views known on the breakdown of the marriage, particularly after Prince Charles’s subsequent admission of adultery in 1994.

According to biographer, William Shawcross, she said: “It’s always a mistake to talk about your marriage,” and found that she felt deeply shocked about the earlier incident in which The Princess of Wales collaborated with Andrew Morton to spill the secrets of life behind closed doors. Shawcross said that Her Majesty felt “the washing of dirty linen in public was utterly abhorrent.”

1995 would mark the beginning of some minor health issues for The Queen Mother, although it would do little to slow her down.

She attended events commemorating the end of the war 50 years before and underwent two operations: one, in July, to remove a cataract from her left eye and one, in November, to replace her right hip.

As Tony Blair’s Labour Party triumphed over the Conservatives in 1997, The Queen Mother would continue to support her daughter and her great-grandchildren, Princes William and Harry through a traumatic time.

Weeks after her 97th birthday, Diana, Princess of Wales was killed as the result of a car crash in Paris. Divorces for her and The Prince of Wales had been granted a year earlier, along with one for The Duke and Duchess of York, who had married in 1986.

Based at Balmoral as the public mood began to turn sour, The Queen would turn to her mother for advice – both constitutionally and emotionally.

Such emotional support would also be needed two months later in December 1997, when the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned. Marked as one of the only times that The Queen has shed a tear in public, Britannia had also formed a part of The Queen Mother’s life.

Each year, the Royal Family would sail to the Western Isles of Scotland for their annual holiday cruise in the summer months and one particular tradition would be to visit The Queen Mother who would be residing at The Castle of Mey, just west of John O’Groats.

In 1998, Her Majesty’s left hip was replaced after she slipped and fell during a visit to Sandringham stables. Nevertheless, a full recovery would allow her to attend the wedding of her grandson, Prince Edward, to Sophie Rhys-Jones in June 1999.

She would also attend the Field of Remembrance in 1998 and witness that year’s Service of Remembrance from the balcony at the Foreign Office. It would be her last appearance at the Cenotaph for three years, suffering from a chill which kept her indoors in 1999 and a broken collarbone in 2000.

As her Centenary approached, plans were underway for the next set of momentous birthday celebrations. She had lived to see every day throughout the entire 20th Century and there would still be many more days to come.

Featured Image: Paul Ratcliffe

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