Why the Queen’s Coronavirus Speech Was Historic

Queen Elizabeth II has a long-standing relationship with new media, but her coronavirus speech was only the fifth televised special message in her career.

queen elizabeth ii
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On Sunday, April 5, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the United Kingdom with a televised speech about the impact the coronavirus has had on her nation and the globe.

“I’m speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time, a time of disruption in the life of our country, a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all,” she began.

After applauding those who have occupations deemed essential (healthcare workers, delivery people, grocers, and so forth), the Queen recalled her first radio broadcast, which took place during World War II, and insinuated that the current moment reminds her of that time. “Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones, but now as then, we know deep down that it is the right thing to do,” she said. “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor.”

Now, you may see the Queen’s yearly Christmas message and think that this sort of televised message is standard practice for the monarch, but the fact is, in 68 years of her reign, her speech about the coronavirus was only the fifth time she gave a televised special message to the public.

The Queen has had a long-standing relationship to new media. In 1940, the then-14-year-old princess Elizabeth gave a speech with her sister, princess Margaret, over the radio. She spoke to children who had been separated or were in the process of being separated from their parents in London to escape the German Luftwaffe bombings. And her coronation in 1953 was the first to be fully televised, and is sometimes credited with making the medium mainstream. (It is estimated that 277 million people across the world tuned in.)

But it is rare that she speaks to the general public via televised address. The four other times such speeches occurred were in February 1991, at the beginning of the First Gulf War; on September 5, 1997, after the death of Princess Diana; when the Queen Mother died in April 2002, and for her Diamond Jubilee in June 2012.

On March 19, the Queen wrote a message to the general public, just as she arrived at Windsor Palace, where she is isolating with her husband, Prince Philip. In the letter, she called this time “a period of great concern and uncertainty.”

As her son Prince Charles recovers from the coronavirus himself, Queen Elizabeth’s televised address was filmed by one camera man who stood at least six feet away from the Queen, according to reports from the BBC. She encouraged all to be self-disciplined enough to practice social distancing.

Related: How European Royals Are Dealing With the Coronavirus