Sspeaking solemnly before Buckingham Palace, Kamala Thiagaras said she vividly remembered the day Queen Elizabeth II was married. Then a student in a Catholic church, she and her fellow pupils had cakes, biscuits and chocolate to celebrate.
“We will still remember her until we die. We were glad that we were there when she was Queen and she ruled us as we were in the Commonwealth” said Thiagaras, who is Sri Lankan.
But when speaking to her grandchildren last night after news of the Queen’s death swept across the nation, no sadness could be registered in their response, recalled Thiagaras, 80.
“Our generation, we all felt sad when we heard the news. But the children, I think, in this day and age they think it’s something that’s happening, they’re taking it as it comes along.”
It was an exchange that exposed a fault line between an older generation commemorating an era-defining monarch whose work ethic, sense of duty and stoicism they’ve known their entire lives, and a younger generation with whom the institution of the monarchy resonates less.
Despite the divide, the sentiment among the thousand-strong crowd which continues to gather outside Buckingham Palace is overwhelmingly that of loss and sadness.
Shahid Khan, a 19-year-old royalist from Cardiff, surmised the generational rift as circumstantial.
“With the younger generation, I guess we haven’t got that situation to bring us together,” said Khan of his peers. “I feel like that’s a reason why they don’t connect.”
Should the disconnect surprise us? During her 70-year reign the Queen witnessed seismic changes in technological development, industry, economics and social life across the world, many of which have been reduced to historical footnotes for young adults.
The Queen was the head of state of 15 other countries, all once part of the former British empire. For seven decades she was head of the Commonwealth, whose 54 countries comprise 2.1 billion people, a third of the globe’s population.
For many, a figurehead they’ve long revered has suddenly vanished. Bentley Roach, 77, from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, has spent his life looking up to the Queen.
“I’m from the Caribbean, a Commonwealth country, therefore people of my generation we know nobody else,” said Roach. “I feel loyalty to the monarchy. That doesn’t mean to say that if countries become independent, it’s the right of the people to choose where they want to go. I respect that.”
By contrast, for some Britons the Queen’s death revived conflicting emotions of a colonial past. “We have a bond to the Commonwealth whether it’s a good thing or not,” said a woman who asked not to be named, for whom the Queen’s work ethic and duty are values she identifies with as a British-born Sri Lankan.
“You can never forget the wrongs of the past,” she added. “I have a lot to be grateful for from this country, but I’m also conscious of my heritage and the struggles that people have.”
For others, such as Kylie Benson, whose family is from Belize, the Queen was the “powerhead” of her community, whose reign provided a sense of stability.
“She meant a lot to me and my family,” said Benson, 32. “Coming from one of her Commonwealth countries, she’s raised that country, and when that actually got independence it changed – to be honest the politics isn’t as good as it was when it was under the Queen’s reign. I always said if I was there I would vote against becoming independent from the British colony.”
Speaking with several young adults, the emotional response to life without the Queen was less evident. “I think everyone’s questioning the same thing – if the monarchy will continue for much longer,” said Ellie Cheek, 21.
For her friend Yele, 24, who did not want to share her last name, the royal family is a staple in British culture. It depends, she said, on who’s willing to say goodbye.
“That will depend on each individual person. I know for some people, like outside of the UK, maybe in like the Caribbean islands, they’re ready to part ways with that. But I think really, it’s difficult …” she petered off.
Steph Hamilton, 32, who described the royals as privileged and unrepresentative, said it was a historic moment. She made her way to Buckingham Palace from Shake Shack when news of the Queen’s death broke on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m not too bothered about the monarchy,” said Hamilton, who predicted that the Queen’s death would have a huge impact. For example: “What happens with the Commonwealth? The fact that we have a king is a bit weird.”