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SHEILA HANCOCK judges everything from Covid to cancel culture

Name : Hans Brehm Date : 23-09-20 05:48 Read : 2


November 9, 2021
Any qualms I had about my worthiness for a damehood were banished by the sheer delight of this day.
I prepared for it with my usual lack of grace towards compliments, then ended up basking in them.
This morning I donned a designer trouser suit, borrowed earrings, and my neck chain on which hang the wedding rings of my two [late] husbands and my mum and dad — I wanted them to come with me — and felt, as [my second husband John Thaw] would say, ‘the business'.
My chaperone was Charlie, the grandchild chosen for the adventure as it coincided with his 17th birthday.

He too looked ‘the business'. His usual attire being shorts, jeans or a wetsuit, he was wearing a proper suit and tie for, I think, the first time, which he carried off with dashing aplomb.
The day started overcast and grey. The car taking us nearly missed the turning, the road leading to the palace looked so unassuming.
Until we were on it. Miraculously, the sun came out, and there, at the end of the long straight approach, glowed Windsor Castle.
We both said ‘Wow' and from then onwards we wallowed in the sheer beauty of the next two hours.

Inside, we were led through several galleries of superb furniture, today news gold wallpaper, lavish carpets, tapestries and pictures.
SHEILA HANCOCK: I confess that nowadays I am sometimes nervous of expressing an opinion. Because of the threat of being 'cancelled'
SHEILA HANCOCK: Any qualms I had about my worthiness for a damehood were banished by the sheer delight of this day (pictured being made a dame by Prince William in 2021)
There were lots of dignitaries in splendid outfits, smiling and greeting us.

One man covered in feathers, braid and medals clanked up to us and whispered that ‘We' — presumably he and other staff members — ‘are all delighted about your award.' Another, seeing me gawping at a Rubens, asked if I would like him to tell me about the art.
The whole occasion was an extraordinary mixture of ornate grandeur and cosy friendliness.

Several of the officials pointed out that they were happy that the investiture was being held at Windsor, rather than the usual Buckingham Palace, so that they could welcome visitors again after the long period of [Covid] isolation.
By the time we got to the ceremonial room for the actual dameing — is that the feminine of knighting?

— I was having a ball. There was a chamber orchestra playing in the resplendent big salon and Prince William greeted me with a lovely smile.
He is, surprisingly, very tall and had to bend down to hang my medal on the hook that had been put on my posh jacket in readiness.

Unfortunately, I had opted to wear a white as well as a red poppy, it being Remembrance Week, and they got in the way of the hook, so the poor prince struggled.
‘Can I help you?' I said, thereby nearly taking over my own investiture, which he hastily prevented whilst explaining that, because of Covid, he hadn't done a ceremony for two years and was out of practice.

I assured him he was doing very well.
To confirm even further my joining the Establishment, my son-in-law Matt Byam Shaw had organised a party at the Garrick Club, that grand institution that still bans women from being members.
SHEILA HANCOCK: This morning I ‘had a fall'.

That's how falling over is described when you are old, and it takes on ominous implications. Relatives tut-tut and hmm. It is presumed you have become unstable, and unable to be on your own
In my fiery youth, I once went to lunch there with [actor] Donald Sinden and deeply embarrassed him by invading a curtained area where women guests were absolutely barred.

I was expecting to see some important chaps engaging in serious Man Talk, when actually most of them were fast asleep, several snoring loudly.
This time I was warmly welcomed by the doorman and conveyed to the glorious library where my family awaited, all done up to the nines in bow ties, dinner jackets and party dresses.

They told me they were proud of me.
I held on to the rings round my neck and hoped that they were, too. I loved every minute of it. This class warrior was utterly seduced.
February 3, 2022
This morning I ‘had a fall'.

That's how falling over is described when you are old, and it takes on ominous implications. Relatives tut-tut and hmm. It is presumed you have become unstable, and unable to be on your own.
A fall presages your imminent demise.
A tragedy. My old-lady fall, however, was more of a joke. Caused by childish behaviour.
I was sitting on the side of my toilet shaving my legs in the bidet alongside. So far, so good. Then for some unknown reason I decided to stand up in the bidet in order to get out.
I can't recall the details but a combination of soapy feet and slippery floor tiles found me semi-naked, flat on my back, on the floor.

The very expensive watch thing which is supposed to summon help if I fall — and indeed incessantly asks me if I need help if I so much as lift my arm quickly — on this occasion chose to ignore me.
SHEILA HANCOCK: My accident has thrown up another problem which is less easy to brush aside.

The main disaster is that with my broken wrist I can't drive for a while. This is my worst dread come true, losing my car
Only when I decided to give it a poke did I discover that my left hand was dangling at an odd angle from my wrist.
There followed an undignified wriggling on my bottom to reach my phone in the next room to summon my long-suffering daughter.
Whilst on the subject of embarrassing mishaps, I recently had another ludicrous emergency, caused by a vein in my leg bursting, and spurting blood everywhere.

That time too, the necessity to acrobatically hold my leg in the air, whilst pressing the hole in my leg with my thumb, made fiddling with my help-summoning watch impossible.
The truth is, although I have turned both episodes into funny stories, they've left me a bit shaken. Living alone, I thought I had any potential accident covered with my emergency watch gadget.

But for both events I needed my daughter to carry me to A&E.
Although everyone is in awe of my usual health, there is no stopping the inevitable Decay which brings with it the other dreaded D — Dependency.
On the other hand, both of these occasions could have happened when I was 30, and I would have needed help then. I am falling into the ‘she's had a fall' trap.

Anyway, my friend Simon has come up with a solution, by attaching a tape to my phone so that I can wear it on my person at all times.
Hopefully Siri will be listening, even if she can't drive me to A&E.
February 5, 2022
My accident has thrown up another problem which is less easy to brush aside.

The main disaster is that with my broken wrist I can't drive for a while. This is my worst dread come true, losing my car.
I love driving. From my Lambretta scooter in the Sixties, and my first car, a racy Morris 1000 convertible, I have always had beautiful vehicles — a Jaguar sports, an MG, a Morgan. All my life I have relished being in control of a machine and acquiring the skills of a good driver.

I passed the advanced driving test with flying colours, and I enjoy the challenge of politely handling the complexities of modern aggressive driving — especially now cycle lanes are making it hard to negotiate the roads. Driving gives me freedom.
On a bad day, my rheumatoid arthritis can immobilise me but, having reluctantly gone from gears in my cars to automatic, I can still drive.

Speeding through the French or English countryside with Beethoven, Elgar, Shostakovich feeding my soul is my idea of bliss — a feast of joy with no interruption.
I even like driving in London. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of back streets and detours to avoid traffic jams, picked up from 70 years of driving in the capital.
After the no-travel rules of lockdown, I was a bit nervous of using the car again, but I overcame my fear and it is a vital part of my life. I am a very good driver, with a clean record.
I will be furious if, because of my age, the insurance companies decide to further limit my freedom.

I already pay a fortune for the sin of being over 80, even though there is no evidence to prove I am more accident-prone.
SHEILA HANCOCK: In my fiery youth, I once went to lunch there with [actor] Donald Sinden and deeply embarrassed him by invading a curtained area where women guests were absolutely barred
I will be desolate if ever I am forced to forgo one of my greatest pleasures in life.

Although the planet may be grateful, I suppose.
June 2022
I confess that nowadays I am sometimes nervous of expressing an opinion. (Not often! I hear you shout.) Because of the threat of being ‘cancelled'.
That word sounds so terrifying. Erased from life.
My grandchildren are constantly telling me ‘You can't say that, Nana' or ‘You can't use that word.' It seems to matter more that I say the right words, than that I say what I feel.
I know words can hurt so I will do my best to use the right terms so that I don't upset people, but I must be free to speak, challenge, and disagree.
I don't want to be a guru, or an inspiration, or a national treasure.

I get nervous when people take me too seriously. Wisdom, in my case, has not come with age. I change my mind all the time. Sometimes someone will say, ‘I was very interested in your last book, when you said . . . something or other.'
My reply can often be, ‘Really!

Did I say that? Well, I don't think that now.'
What kind of guru is that? I am not to be trusted. Especially now.
I've seldom been so confused. Copying the Government, I blame everything on Covid. My thoughts are muddled.

I am emerging from our enforced hibernation bewildered, unnerved, cringing in the light at the end of a long, scary, tunnel.
September 8, 2022
I was enjoying myself taking part in the light-hearted chat on a live broadcast of Steph's Packed Lunch [Channel 4], when the floor manager whispered in my ear, in a moment when the camera was not on me, that something was happening with the Queen.
My heart missed a beat, but before he could explain more he cued me to continue.

In the next commercial break, I cornered a young runner and asked her, with dread in my heart, what was going on.
She looked at me anxiously — ‘Are you all right?' — and used a tissue to wipe away what I realised were tears on my cheeks.

‘The Queen,' I hissed. ‘Is she dead?'
‘I think she may be, but don't upset yourself, Sheila. She's an old lady, after all.'
Never has the generation gap seemed so wide. In the next commercial break, the first assistant hastily explained to the studio that it had been announced that the Queen had taken a turn for the worse, but we weren't to mention it, although I could, if I liked, as I was elderly, say something nice about her.
I didn't, I couldn't.

I was too upset. So on I went with my jolly prattle. It wasn't my best performance.
As the day progressed, the news gradually unfolded that the dear woman had indeed died. Two days ago she was photographed, as she said goodbye to the current prime minister, who had resigned, and welcomed the new one, Liz Truss.
She probably knew she was dying, but I suspect that she wasn't going to miss the opportunity of seeing the back of Boris Johnson, or giving the new woman, who seemed to have popped up from nowhere, the once-over.
And now she's not there any more.

The whole country has gone very quiet.
Of course it's not surprising that the Queen has died at the age of 96, but somehow we are still shocked. She has always been there. Through wars, recessions, terrorism, appalling governments, Royal Family ups and downs, she has remained steady.
Old Rage will be out on June 8
She has performed her duties impeccably, meeting and greeting with a smile some pretty awful people — Trump and Putin among them.

She has never shown the rage or boredom that she sometimes must have felt when carrying out her official jobs.
Did she think, at the opening of Parliament, as she looked at the latest batch of MPs crowded at the entrance of the House of Lords, ‘All these peers and earls sitting here may not have been elected, but they are a damn sight more civilised than that lot from the Commons.

What a shower! In my 70 years in charge, these prats are the worst. And this bloody crown is killing me.'
If she did think that, not a glimmer of a smile or frown did she ever show. She was a consummate actress.
I hope I am right in thinking that lockdown was a pleasure for her.

Prince Philip had retired and I like to think they had a nice cosy year living a normal life in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Just the occasional gallop on one of her favourite horses and a few staff looking after them.
No banquets or receptions.

No need to stand about for hours shaking hands and asking people if they had come far. Just the two of them.
I fully realise the indifference of the young runner is shared by many nowadays, and things will have to change, but I am grateful for her service.
Ever since those messages that the princess sent to us kids during the war, I have liked her being there.
All those parties we had of which she was the centre. Standing with happy, usually rain-drenched, crowds on the Mall, cheering big events like her wedding and her coronation. If you have any inquiries regarding exactly where and how to use newest news, you can speak to us at our site. The military bands, the incomprehensible rituals, the Jubilee and VE Day street parties.
All the recent photos in the Press remind me how beautiful she was, with that rationed, radiant smile.

In the grey years after the war, she was often resplendent in silk and satin and diamonds, or handsome, saluting in uniform, sitting sideways on a horse.
As the years have progressed, she has not fallen into the trap of trying to look young, but has aged with frumpy dignity.

Possibly the image that best illustrates her spirit is that of the frail, bent old woman in Balmoral, greeting Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, probably racked with pain, but still managing that familiar, glorious smile.
She is revered worldwide, as the reaction to her death is proving.

For the last 80 years she has met every major figure in the world, and they, however elevated, have deemed it an honour. And yet she always seemed, and probably was, quite ordinary.
A unique achievement. What will give us dignity as a nation now she has gone?
September 19, 2022
After the funeral, the [Queen's] hearse was to pass the end of our road on its way to Windsor.

We were very excited about this as the street had been thoroughly washed and scrubbed in readiness; they even repainted the lamp posts.
By the time the cortège was due, champagne was flowing (maybe a bit inappropriate, but it had been a long day) and spirits were high as we waited on the pavement.
Then two cars went by at top speed and we weren't sure if they held the coffin.
We realised they were behind schedule and the roast venison for the banquet must be getting cold, but hey, look at our lamp posts.
Then, on its own, came a big, slower car.

It was her. She looked lonely. She probably was sometimes, especially after Philip died. Alone on her pedestal. We all fell silent.
‘Goodbye, darling,' I whispered.
EXTRACTed from Old Rage by Sheila Hancock, to be published by Bloomsbury on June 8 at £9.99.
© Sheila Hancock 2023. To order a copy for £8.99 (offer valid to 17/06/23; UK P&P free on orders over £25), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937