Over a week ago, I was among the 33 million UK viewers who tuned into a live news feed to learn about the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing. For me, it started just like any other Thursday. I was sitting at my desk, responding to emails, and typing up drafts. At some point during the day, as the news broke that Her Majesty’s health was being monitored, I didn’t give it much thought. “It can’t be,” I mentally told myself.
But as the afternoon went on, concerns grew once the Palace announced that other members of The Royal Family were due to travel to Balmoral. And it hit me. Just a few minutes later, I received a FaceTime call from my mom, anxiously asking: “Is it true? Is the Queen dying?”
I didn’t want to say anything out loud, not until there’s been an official confirmation. I remained hopeful, and it wasn’t until I received the dreaded push notification from the BBC News app on my phone that I actually came to terms with what happened. Immediately, my stomach turned. I didn’t shed a single tear until I turned on the live news coverage and watched as the Queen’s portrait devoured the entire TV with a black background.
I felt heartbroken and confused all at once. After all, I don’t hold a British citizenship and I’m not someone who has spent the majority of their life in the UK, nor am I someone who’s grown up with the Queen at all. So why did I suddenly feel such loss for a former head of state that wasn’t mine to begin with?
I’ve lived in the UK for the past seven years, but I was born and raised in Kazakhstan. It’s a landlocked country located in Central Asia, well beyond the reach of the Crown and one of the few states that the Queen had never set foot in. I haven’t grown up watching the Queen’s Christmas speeches, nor have I ever had the opportunity to catch her balcony appearances in person.
My parents grew up in the Soviet Union and I was born just seven years after Kazakhstan became an independent state. It should come as no surprise that Kazakhstan and the UK couldn’t be more different, particularly when it comes to cultural values and politics. One is a long-standing constitutional monarchy, while the other is a young Central Asian republic.
Growing up, I wasn’t up-to-date on news surrounding The Royal Family. Sure, I passed my history tests and knew my William the Conqueror from Queen Victoria, but I can’t say I was as connected to British culture as I was once I moved to the UK. But even though I didn’t taste my first scone until I hit 17, I still couldn’t help but admire Queen Elizabeth II from afar, just as my entire family did.
My fascination with royalty in general started in the same way as it typically does with most children – fairy tales. As someone who’s rewatched every cartoon involving Disney princesses more times than I can count, it’s safe to say that I was always curious about the idea of a monarchy. I distinctly remember my 10-year-old self asking my father: “Daddy, why don’t we have kings and queens and princesses?”
It’s possible that this childlike fascination with royalty carried on throughout my life. In Kazakhstan, news about The Royal Family was scarce, so I can easily recall the few instances when my family and I were glued to the TV screen, hoping to catch even the slightest glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II. When I was a teenager, my brother moved to London for university and I still remember the excitement that I felt whenever he would return to visit and bring back all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs, most of which had images of the Queen’s face embroidered on them.