The Queen does not feel old, therefore she declines Oldie of the Year award. Ageist?

Cartoon of Queen Elizabeth II saying "You are as old as you feel. So NO to Oldie of the Year Award." She is surrounded by symbols of privilege: 82 million GBP salary, 600 million GBP personal wealth, royal medical team, royal shoe wearer-in etc.
Why did the Queen decline the Oldies of the Year Award?

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.

28 thoughts on “The Queen does not feel old, therefore she declines Oldie of the Year award. Ageist?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think a gracious ‘I am old but yes but there are other far people more worthy of wearing that crown than privileged I.’ No?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Nicely handled! Tact plus truth.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oops – ‘people far more worthy’. Her Majesty would be appalled at my use of her English, I’m sure!

  3. I agree with anonymous, that she was just being gracious and wanting some other more ‘worthy’ rather than privileged like herself, to get recognition. So I admire her declining it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I think we are at cross purposes here, Maggie. I added a direct quote from the Queen’s letter, in which she says that she is refusing the award because she doesn’t feel like an old person.

      1. Oh dear… my goodness me… she is deluded then 🙂

  4. Sadje says:

    The second refusal is perhaps the most appropriate.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Ah yes, I think you’re right. If only that had been her intention… Instead she made it clear (despite some odd grammar) that she was declining because she didn’t feel old.

      1. Sadje says:

        I get your point and it feels that it’s her privilege talking, not a 95 year old lady.

  5. My first reaction to the Queen’s wording of her refusal is that she was offended. I believe the point you make, Rachel, is a point well worth recognizing. And if more of us could be more like you… presenting an awareness and perspective that reaches beyond our “selvs,” the world would be a better place.With all due respect to Her Majesty, the Queen could learn a thing or two here.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      By jingo Ingrid, I think you might be right! Being offended would make sense. Which, as you say, bears closer examination, starting with “why?”

  6. Having written she is deluded, in a rush… I then think… well, don’t we all feel like that… inside, we don’t feel old… so I don’t know. We are old (speaking for myself) and it is a privilege… and Liz is a lot older than me. But I’m still glad she’s turned it down as I am sure there’s some spectacular ‘oldie’ out there who will be delighted.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We mostly are, I guess 🙂

  7. cedar51 says:

    I think I like #2 reason – and I’m quite sure their is another her age that is just as worthy of the title – but then I think is that the key factor, someone of her current age – as is that the true age of an oldie. As per usual I am not making any sense!

  8. Cathy Cade says:

    I suspect she foresaw a lot of media hype about priviledge had she accepted it.
    And perhaps she felt it could go to someone to whom it would mean more. How ironic she should be told to take things easy so soon afterwards.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, perhaps so. So why say she declined because she didn’t feel old? I’m guessing Ingrid is right: she felt offended (at being regarded as old). Aren’t we all a bit like that?

      1. Cathy Cade says:

        I can’t imagine that. Some of us are quirte proud of having got this far (despite the predictions of some…) She could hardly say she declined because the media would start making comparisons along the lines of priviledge. Can you imagine the coverage? She’s quite a savvy old bird.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Amen to that (savvy). This is doing my head in.

      3. Cathy Cade says:

        (As you’ll have gathered, I’m not a fan of the media)

  9. Alan Ralph says:

    This has been in the news last 24 hours here in UK. Personally, I’m no fan of the Royal Family in general, for various reasons, privilege being one of them. But I suspect this is a case of “damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t”. And sadly I have a feeling whoever does get this award won’t get the same press coverage.

  10. Paula Light says:

    The royals are all so ridiculously privileged that I can’t take anything they say seriously. As far as the concept itself, yes, not being in poverty is definitely helpful, but some of us simply have bad luck. My chronic back pain makes me feel old at age 60…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Paula, I was about to mention other uncontrollable factors (such as illness or chronic pain) but held off for editorial reasons. When external events or sheer bad luck change your life, it must be deeply hurtful when someone implies it’s all up to you. Regardless of their conscious intention.

  11. Vanity? Which means, she doesn’t feel old, I guess.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Human nature? That’s a common feeling.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    As I have commented before, I embrace calling myself old. Why not? I am. Interior age is ageless for sure. Inside I am forever 9. But that is quite different from saying “I don’t feel old.” Trying to climb up from the ground surrounded by puppies and needing a hand from my grandson reveals the truth and there is no shame in it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The Queen is valiant in maintaining this very human illusion.

  13. Geoff Le Pard says:

    Hello Rachel
    I’m not sure how I found myself here but love this debate.
    With all Royal utterances I must own I try hard to remember the societal abuse we in Britain have put them through forcing a family to live their lives as our privileged puppets with no remission and the Queen has had 95 years of it. It’s like owning a zoo where we pamper to the max the primates but never let them leave their cage. So if they say something daft, chippy or downright sententious are we really surprised?
    So is what she said an acknowledgement of privilege or a fairly understandable human reaction or even an attempt at humour (God forbid: the Royals do standup). Give her the benefit of the doubt for once.
    PS in case you think this applies to Andrew it doesn’t. He’s appalling in any circumstances…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Geoff, good to meet you. Thanks for your rather wonderful reminder. As it happens, I couldn’t agree with you more. Your zoo analogy is perfect, and privileged puppets, true that. Ages ago I read a short book (Title? Author?) arguing that the monarchy should beabolished–because every member of the royal family has their lives and minds wrecked by the unnatural attention, deference, reverence! and privilege that they live with from day one. How can we expect them to be normal, whatever this is, given what they are obliged to be. Well, I did mean the post to be about thoughtless ageist ideas we all hold and express (I could quote both Trump and Obama) but it turns out to be about the Queen. I hope we meet again.

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