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This week, the Queen will reach the ‘grand old age’ of 90, and in honour of the occasion the Palace’s PR Department has been working overtime to ensure maximum publicity with positive stories and images of, not just the Queen, but the whole Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family. (Or Windsor, for the sake of keeping up appearances.) We’ve had a crowd-pleasing interview with Prince William, a new set of stamps from the Royal Mail depicting 4 generations of the family, including the smiling-faced future king standing on a pile of books. And let’s not forget the massively important photo of jolly George’s parents sitting on a bench!
We’ve been told to ‘Clean for The Queen’ – perhaps in preparation for the pièce de résistance of Her Majesty’s birthday celebrations – a huge street party in The Mall this summer, where 10,000 people will sit down to a lunch that includes some M&S sandwiches, a selection of pork pies and a can of Pimms. You too could join these happy guests, but only if you can afford to cough up £150 and are lucky enough to win a ticket through the ballot system.
But away from the birthday celebrations, and the happy and glorious stories, the job of a royal publicist can be hard. Diverting attention away from reports of stroppy princes smashing their cars into locked gates, stories of heirs to the throne attempting to interfere with political decisions, and playing down revelations that £1 million of tax payers’ money was used to renovate Kate and Will’s pad must be difficult and stressful work. Fortunately though, the job of a palace publicist is made much easier with the help of sympathetic media outlets, including the publicly funded and unbiased BBC, who today, as part of their coverage of the birthday celebrations, published an article giving their view on how HM has stayed healthy and reached such a ripe old age.
According to Clare Bates, there are a number of factors that can explain how the Queen has maintained good health and achieved a long life. These include having good genes (she comes from very healthy stock apparently), eating and drinking sensibly, being married, keeping mentally alert and active, having a strong religious faith and from doing charitable work. In summary, what they are trying to tell us is that she’s reached the age she has by being a thoroughly good egg! Hurrah!
However, the one incredibly important issue affecting health and longevity that this exhaustive list has failed to mention is the fact that Her Majesty is rich. Very rich. But there’s not even a fleeting reference in this article to the fact that one of the greatest determinants of a person’s health is their income.
Recent figures from the London Health Observatory found that the gap in life expectancy between those in London’s affluent and deprived wards is, astoundingly, nearly 25 years. In addition, the Equality Trust has carried out a separate analysis and discovered that there is a significant gap in life expectancy for those in different areas of the UK – this gap has increased 41% for men and 73% for women in the last 20 years.
In determining reasons for the Queen’s long life, the BBC article mentions none of this. So do we ignore the wealth issue, as the BBC have done? But we know from various studies that poor people die younger than rich people, so are the BBC subtly implying that the poor are unable to maintain stable relationships? That they’re both physically and mentally inactive? That they have no religious beliefs and do little for charity?
Most worryingly in this piece, Clare Bates and the BBC are helping fuel the myth that health inequality is a result of people’s lifestyle choices. The poor die younger because they smoke too much, because they they eat too many bacon butties and wash them down with pints of lager. Foie gras and champers would perhaps be more appropriate choices for the health conscious!
So yes, Clare Bates’ list could suggest some of the possible explanations for the Queen’s healthy old age, but it could also be down to nothing more than the well established link between economic inequality and health.
Regardless of wealth and background, I believe in equality, and I think that everyone’s birthday is cause for celebration. Mine is coming up in September, and I extend an invite to Her Majesty and anyone else who wishes to come and celebrate with me. Tickets costing £150 will be available shortly.