The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the Queen’s stoic example to the country after Prince Philip’s death was “flawless” – and revealed he was “terrified” preaching before her for the first time.
Justin Welby told Sky News’ Kay Burley the Queen shows “courage, but also a complete lack of self-pity”, which is what the public sometimes gets to see.
He said there are “very few people” who know how she coped with the death of the Duke of Edinburgh in April last year and only opens her heart to people who have been alongside her for many years.
“She feels grief, but as she said on one occasion, ‘it’s not about me’ – this characterized the duke as well,” he said ahead of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
“Therefore she’s able to go on with this huge gap in her life with total courage.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who would disagree with the idea that her stoicism, every example to the country is flawless in so many regards.”
The archbishop said that people would “have to be quite warped” to look at the “mesmerising” photo of the Queen sitting by herself at her husband’s funeral and not feel she is “someone who does what is right whatever it costs – and that is extraordinary”.
“I wish there were more of us, including myself, who had quite that sense of just going to do the right thing,” he said.
He said he had only been archbishop for six weeks when he preached in front of her for the first time, for the 60th anniversary of her coronation.
Asked how he felt, he said: “Terrified.”
‘I thought I’d said something wrong’
He then had lunch with her and some others and said he was sitting to her right and she turned away from him to talk to the Dean of Westminster.
“I didn’t realize what the rules were at that point,” he said.
“I thought ‘what have I said?’, she turned quite away from me.
“Of course, there’s a protocol for it, as soon as the main course came she turned to me and was talking to me for the whole main course then the next course she turned back.”
‘The healing impact’
The Archbishop, who has been the Church of England’s most senior bishop since 2013, said the first time he “properly” met the Queen he experienced an “extraordinary moment”.
He said the Queen was at a reception in Liverpool, where he was dean of the cathedral, and a Rwandan asylum seeker who had survived the genocide was put on the Queen’s table.
“At the end of lunch, when everyone else was going off the Queen spent 15 to 20 minutes just sitting and talking to her.
“She gave that completely ‘unimportant’ woman absolutely focus, it was something the woman never forgot and the healing impact she had on her was quite extraordinary.”
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He said he has “lots of fond memories – I can’t think of any unfond memories” of the Queen.
Another of those was after the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral when she was meant to go back to her apartments but noticed some German relatives among the few guests allowed.
“She very firmly didn’t get into the car and went into the cloisters by St George’s Chapel and talked to them to make them feel welcome and appreciated,” he said.
The archbishop was due to lead a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday for the Platinum Jubilee but tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
The Archbishop of York will preach the St Paul’s sermon in his place.
Mr Welby revealed the service would have “distinct echoes of the coronation” with the music, but will also be “forward-looking” and not nostalgic.
“I think it’s a service that, if we allow ourselves, will have a massive uniting impact on the country.”