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Dutiful, familiar, mysterious: how Queen wins our respect

The Queen arrives in Ireland and the papers are stuffed with analysis about the significance - for the peace process, the relationship between Britain and Ireland. But what of the person at the centre of the media storm?

As the Queen nears 60 years on the throne, the lines of Philip Larkin's 1952-1977, penned for the Silver Jubilee, grow ever more apposite in explaining her mystique:

In times when nothing stood

But worsened, or grew strange,

There was one constant good:

She did not change.

It's been a remarkable reign. When she ascended the throne she was a stunning 25-year-old and a huge celebrity. Women pored over pictures of Elizabeth and glamourous sister Margaret in gowns, drank in details of their romances.

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And now? Queen Elizabeth II is a kind of grandmother to the nation. The black and white images of the Coronation seem like artifacts of a lost world of duty, honour, stoicism. Such a contrast to our modern one of emotional incontinence and 'me too-ism'. Except when it comes to the Queen. Six decades on, her expression is as enigmatic as ever as she serves her country.

She has seen 12 prime ministers come and go. When she became Queen the country was in the grip of post-war austerity; now it's one of the internet, mobile phones and facebook. She has witnessed the end of Empire and the growth of multi-cultural Britain. She has been a constant in the flux, a reminder that something endures despite huge social changes.

If the monarchy does survive it will be largely due to the Queen. Or rather her response to the contrary forces of tradition and change. It's no coincidence that she remains so popular. Nor is it a coincidence that she remains the Royal we know least about. We may say we want touchy-feely Royals, but it is those who have tried to adapt to the modern world - to be 'relevant', to be more like us - that have fared the worst. Look at Charles. He graces us with his opinions and helps with authorised biographies. The result? An unpopular Prince, subject to ridicule. Polls indicate many want him to step aside in favour of Prince William. Andrew and Edward don't occupy a fond place in our hearts either, the former mired in controversy, the latter largely invisible. Only Anne truly impresses - with the virtues of her mother and indeed father: hardworking, no-nonsense, dutiful.

Just like you and I, the Queen must have days when she 'doesn't feel like going in', when she'd rather potter around with the Corgis. She is 85. But there are no cry-offs. Whether State visit or the tedium of making small-talk with tongue-tied strangers at crowd barriers, she is there.

Ah yes, you say, but look at the wealth, the flunkies. Except, as prying photos proved, this is a Queen who lives frugally, helping herself to breakfast cereal from a Tupperware box. An expose of the ordinariness which, one suspects, that has kept her sane.

The Queen personifies the great secret of monarchy - that its primary duty is to 'be', not to 'do'. She remains an example of the qualities of restraint and reserve. Yet, as in Kipling's If, she hasn't lost the common touch. The horse-racing, her obvious affection for her own mother, her enduring, evidently close relationship with Prince Philip all speak of a remarkable, sympathetic woman. We feel we know her, though we don't. Not really.

Of course, she and the monarchy have changed. When Diana died, she read the runes and changed tack, maybe against her natural instincts. She showed similar pragmatism when it came to paying tax. Apparently the Queen regards her visit to the Republic to be among her most important. In some ways, it closes a circle. Whatever you think of her, glance for a moment at that slight, grey-haired great-grandmother who happens to be one of the most extraordinary women in history and reflect on the life she has led. Monarchist or no, she must have earned your respect.

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