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1997 Onwards - Sir John Major’s Comments on the Diamond Jubilee Weekend

Below is the text of Sir John Major’s comments on the Diamond Jubilee Weekend, broadcast live on the morning of 5th June 2012 on ITV, with hosts Phillip Schofield and Julie Etchingham.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


One person who will be making his way to St. Paul's very shortly is Sir John Major. He was of course one of her Prime Ministers and also patron of the Diamond Jubilee Trust and he has been very busy throughout the weekend but has kindly found time to join us here.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Pleasure, good morning.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


Let's start with the Duke, and you saw that gentleman there in the Mall giving the Duke his best wishes, as much as everybody does at this moment.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I think that everyone is worried about how the Duke is, but he's pretty strong and he's pretty tough. I'll tell you what was fantastically moving last night, when the crowd here at the concert started chanting Philip - 'Phil-ip, Phil-ip', it was just magical and you could see that the Queen was very moved by that. But he's a strong man, yesterday morning he was out riding, so he's tough and I'm pretty confident he'll be fine.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


You've been at the heart of all of this planning for this amazing event, patron of the Diamond Jubilee Trust, what have you made of what you've seen so far over this weekend?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


It's been an absolutely magnificent national party, and I think it's quite extraordinary, last night in The Mall was just an unforgettable sight. Tens and tens of thousands of people there. And all over the country there have been village parties, and perhaps in the cities meeting their neighbours whom they've never met before. The Queen will be very pleased about that. So I think it's just been a magnificent national party.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


It's not just a national thing is it, the Queen herself has been extraordinarily keen to make sure that the Commonwealth is embraced in all of this. You, above all people, who have worked so closely with her know just how much the Commonwealth means to her.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


A great deal. When the Queen became Queen there were 8 members of the Commonwealth, there are now 54. Wherever you go in the world, I travel a good deal of my time around the world, and the Queen these days is iconic, wherever you go, people know about the Queen, they're fascinated about the Queen, they'll talk about the Queen, if they talk of the Queen, they mean about our Queen, so it's quite extraordinary.


That's right the way across the Commonwealth, but actually beyond that as well. You see this fascination with the Royal Family, you saw it with Prince William's wedding, you've seen it on other occasions, there's an absolute fascination with the British Monarchy.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


What happens to the Commonwealth then? Looking well, well into the future, is this something she holds together as the glue?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Her father, King George VI, was instrumental in beginning the Commonwealth when it had just a handful of members, it has grown up with the Queen. It's now deeply rooted, there are intangible roots, it's almost like the British constitution, it isn't written but you know what it is, and you know what it means.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


What does it do?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


It does a great deal. In terms of the relationship, it's helpful for trade, it's helpful for personal relationships, you see it on the sporting field. Diplomatically it can be extremely useful, and often is. So although it's intangible, you can't write down the Commonwealth does this, the Commonwealth does that, it's a very powerful invisible force.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


Of course Sir John, you were one of the Queen's 12 Prime Ministers.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


There are lots of us, only one of her.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


Which she has reflected on of course with a glint in her eye on occasions, but you of course would have had those weekly audiences and you were Prime Minister at one of the most difficult periods of the Queen's reign for her, and her 'Annus Horribilis'. What are your reflections and memories of those weekly audiences?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Well I think one has a great many memories of them but I think what people would be most surprised about is how informal they are, you sit down exactly as we're talking now, just two people, surrounded more often than not by half a dozen corgis or more, they're usually present.


But usually almost everything, everything, is up for discussion, it's entirely free and frank and relaxed. And I think were people to listen in they'd be quite surprised both at the breadth of the conversation; and equally, they ought not to be, it's very much a two-way conversation.


The Queen has been Queen, as we know, for 60 years, she's been having these meetings since Churchill, there's not much she hasn't seen before, there isn't much she doesn't know, there's not much that her advice isn't very well worth listening to.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


A lot of people who have met the Queen have commented how remarkable it is how much she takes in, she may appear like she's looking regally over something but in actual fact she's taken note of every single point. When it came to those meetings with her, she's very astute, she's remembered a lot.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


She's remembered a lot, she's also extremely well briefed. Don't forget the Queen sees State Papers, they're not just restricted to Ministers, the Queen sees them as well. So there's nothing that happens in front of house as it were, or behind the scenes, that the Queen isn't aware of.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


What about your time in Balmoral, how different is that to the office [Buckingham Palace] behind you?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I remember being at Balmoral on one occasion, there was a crisis, there usually was I remember, I was on the phone to a foreign Prime Minister, it was the Italian Prime Minister and after a while he said, "what on earth is wrong with this line, I can't hear a thing?". It was the bagpipes, I had been there a few days and utterly forgotten that they were being played, but they were. I'd shut them out, but he couldn't. A very difficult conversation with him.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


How do you think that the Queen has moved the Monarchy on? Just to reflect on that difficult period in 1992, when she was very honest and open about it publicly, about having to acknowledge a difficult year, how did she reshape the Monarchy? Was it a subtle, incremental thing?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I think that's a very good description, it was subtle and incremental.


I mean the Monarchy is both a part of our nation and slightly apart from our nation, and that is the way our nation likes it. And the Queen has seen it change, it has evolved, it's a much more sympathetic Monarchy than I think it was in days gone past. Slightly less regal in some respects, much more human, much more in touch.


You've seen the extent over the last few days to which the Queen is happy in crowds, whether it's at the Derby where perhaps she's as happy as anywhere, and on other occasions. And I think that's partly what has brought nation and Monarchy so close together at the moment.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


Is that change led by her?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Certainly that's led by her, but I think you only have to look at younger members of the Royal Family to see it's not restricted to her. I don't know how many mentions there were, for example, last night of Prince Harry, but quite a lot, and he, Prince William and Prince Charles, and Prince Charles's speech last night was very moving indeed and I thought his programme the other day produced some wonderful films, some spectacular moments.


So I think that the nation and Monarchy have got to know one another even better over the last 72 hours.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


She's the widest travelled Monarch ever, she's travelled around the world, circumnavigated, indeed the first Monarch to do that. But the one country that was closest to her is the one that's closest to us,  and that trip to Ireland was really a very important moment between the two countries.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


It was remarkable, absolutely remarkable. All the way through the Irish troubles, there was this curious mixture of people who wanted to kill and murder, and the innate friendliness of the Irish. It was always a curious conundrum that those two things could run almost in parallel and when the peace process began in the early 1990s and many people doubted that we would actually get to where we are.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


We have some images now, remarkable, even the choice of colours, the outfits she wore, everything resonated.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


I don't suppose that I was the only one with tears in my eyes when I saw those images.


JULIE ETCHINGHAM:


It was that emotional for you, you were so deeply involved in that process?


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Well, lots of people were, yes I was, but so were lots of other people, no one person or handful of people brought that about, it was a huge number of people, including many unsung and completely unknown. But the final confirmation that things were so different was the Queen's hugely successful visit to Ireland, about which she felt very strongly.


Many people might have been cautious about going, I think it's to the credit of the Prime Minister that he said straight away "go" and that even if he hadn't, she'd have probably of pushed pretty hard to do. And it was fantastically successful. And things have changed for good now.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


Thank you and I'm very conscious we've got to get you to the Service.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


It would not be well received if I was late.


PHILLIP SCHOFIELD:


No, so in which case, thank you very much indeed.


SIR JOHN MAJOR:


Thank you both.