The Queen does not feel old, therefore she is not old. True? False? Ageist? From our friends, we smile when we hear such comments—we know what they mean. But coming from a 95-year-old celebrity multi-millionaire her words have a facile, bitter-sweet flavour.
She declined the Oldie of the Year Award expressly because she didn’t feel old enough to qualify:
“Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept, and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient.”Quoted on numerous news web sites, 20 October 2021
Many would applaud the Queen for her words, “You are as old as you feel.” Yep, you hear it every day. This is for most people a shorthand reminder that one factor in aging well is maintaining a curious, enthusiastic, engaged, optimistic outlook. Which the Queen certainly does: I’m not knocking Her Majesty, just her words.
Attitude is one factor, but not the only one. Call me super-sensitive but I bristled when I read her words. Age, literally, is a number, the number of years you have lived. And the Queen has lived 95 years so far, so I think she qualifies as old by any common measurement.
But why does she not feel old, and thus does not consider herself old? Because she has aged well. She is a strong, healthy old person.
Subtext of “You’re as old as you feel”: anyone can age well
You may have noticed that I’m always going on about what we can do personally to age as well as possible. I can do a lot and probably you can too, and we do. But (quite apart from genes) there’s another massive uncontrollable factor involved. It prevents a worryingly large proportion of the population from achieving a happy healthy old age: it’s poverty.
Privilege is at the very root of aging well (healthily, happily). A roof over your head. Good food and enough of it. Good health care. Security. I think we can all agree that Queen Elizabeth II is winning on all these fronts.
If you are poor, struggling, underprivileged, homeless, all these things are out of reach. And your body reacts accordingly.
I think that’s why I reacted so strongly to the reason the Queen gave for declining the Oldie of the Year Award. I sensed a subtext: “I feel strong and healthy and you could too if you just pulled up your socks and tried a bit harder. Like me.”
Tell that to the single mother living with seven children in her aunty’s garage. Tell that to the hungry millions. Tell that to the refugees stranded and abandoned.
The sobering moment: what would I say instead?
Righteous indignation is fun. But can I think of a better response? I cannot. Can you?
Of course she has every right to decline the award of Oldie of the Year. And she was under no obligation to justify her refusal. But if I were the Queen, what kind of reason could I give?
“Thank you, but one has 43 rooms in one’s palaces crammed with awards already. One cannot accommodate any more.” No?
“Thank you, but I don’t believe I am an appropriate role model. Perhaps you could give it to someone who has overcome great obstacles.” No?
“Thank you, but no.” No?
I’m stuck. But it is pretty hard to imagine myself in Her place. And frankly, I don’t wanna be Royal. (Lorde)
Yo! Is this ageist? says yes, the Queen’s reply was ageist—despite her excellent example of aging well.