He was even able to speak with the Queen in person: Michael Zimmermann, Austria’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, honors Queen Elizabeth II. MeinBezirk.at reporter Lukas Moser met him at his residence in London for an interview.
London / Austria. Among other things, we spoke to Zimmermann about his personal memories of the late king, her relationship with Austria, and Monday’s royal state funeral.
RegionalMedien Austria: You have already paid your last respects to the Queen, you have gone to her coffin. How do you feel about that?
Michael Zimmerman: You and many viewers are familiar with television images. However, this atmosphere cannot be conveyed in Westminster Hall, the site was not chosen by chance: it is the oldest part of Parliament. This great Norman hall is a thousand years old, and you have to think of it as a wooden barn topped with beautiful wooden beams. The light penetrating the large windows and the room gives the party a very special atmosphere.
You met the Queen yourself once. How was that for you at the time?
I have been fortunate to have had two personal confrontations with the Queen. The first time in over 20 years and the second time in four years, when I presented her our Federal President’s credentials. The Queen insisted that these ceremonies be held with ambassadors from all countries herself, because she was very interested in the United Kingdom in the international community. The meeting was impressive because it was a very personal encounter. There were only four people in the room: me, my wife and a Queens employee. You can talk to the Queen from person to person – these are unforgettable moments and make you feel special when you are standing in this person’s coffin.
You will be the envy of many at the meeting. The Queen is known as a regent, but if you think about that meeting, what kind of person was she?
It must be said that the Queen spoke to hundreds of thousands of people during the seventy years of her reign, and the Queen was not far away. Among the thousands who now passed by the sarcophagus, many also saw the queen in person – there really is a close relationship between the people and the queen. In her more than 70 years, she has known many people in her country, Commonwealth countries and beyond. This is why the international reaction is so severe.
If you think back to your visit to Westminster Hall, how did you personally feel when you stood in front of the coffin?
Deep respect for the Queen as a person. Above all, she was very disciplined in the sense that she was in good control of her job and did not lose her strength and humanity. She prepared herself well for meetings with various people and was able to show that she is really interested in the matter and in the people. Do not forget and feel it the moment you stand in front of the coffin.
The Queen also visited this house, the Austrian Embassy in London. Can you tell something about that?
We’ve been in this house for 156 years. It is one of the very few buildings we still have here from the 19th century. Throughout history, British rulers have been guests here again and again – most recently the Queen herself in 1966. This is of course a very special historical experience. The Queen was also on a state visit to Austria – that was a different period, in the 1960s, you had more time. The Queen took this time in Austria: she visited many federal states, as a great lover of horses, she visited the Piber Lipizzaner stud and there is a photo of her in the federal army’s Hafflinger all-terrain vehicle. I’m sure: The Queen remembered this visit and it is also a special bridge between our two countries.
70 years – a wonderful era for the United Kingdom and the monarchy. But what about the second?
Yes, 70 years is a long time. Historically, the rule of the Queen will affect the country for a very long time. Just as we still have a picture of Maria Theresa hanging in the Austrian embassy, so will portraits of the Queen likely be around the world for the next hundreds of years. It is an interesting moment for the British monarchy: when the Queen ascended the throne 70 years ago, that was the beginning of her political activities and public representation. It’s a completely different moment for King Charles – it’s the culmination of a fifty-year political career, and over the past fifty years he has been very important and interesting on current issues. Not on everyday or partisan political issues, but he does have clear views on environmental protection, ecology, agriculture or architecture. These private opinions are thus far well known among the general public, and it will be interesting to see how someone who already has a public profile will champion their ideas and prioritize them in the future. British rulers have always kept a low profile in everyday politics, which gives them a lot of public confidence – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested or have no say. But they are trying to stay above the political events of today and are trying to contribute to the unity and prosperity of the country with the opportunities available to them.
There are already tendencies towards secession in the Commonwealth and some young people in London are also against the monarchy, although the majority are making a pilgrimage to the late Queen’s coffin. How do you rate these trends?
On the one hand, it’s a huge personal respect for the Queen. On the other hand, in addition to the official photos, you also have to look a little bit on the Internet and then you will see that there are definitely critical and negative voices. However, the peculiarity of the British monarchy will make it very difficult to turn this country into a monarchy. In the short and medium term, this is simply unexpected, because even those who criticize the monarchy will hesitate when asked: Who should come after it?! I think the debate will continue. One must also not forget that King Charles himself knows the way the British ruler behaves, the structure of the palace, public appearances – he has carefully studied them and will take his own steps there too. The royal family may look more modest in the future, and they will get closer to the people. But I do not think that the existence of the British monarchy is seriously called into question in the United Kingdom. Global debates can be expected again in the Queen’s 14 states that are now headed by King Charles. Some smaller countries might consider becoming a republic – the Caribbean island of Barbarossa has done so, and there have been and are discussions in Australia as well. But these are developments we can wait for and I think the British royal family is also looking forward to it with equanimity.
After the big state funeral on Monday, heads of state from around the world are expected to give their last greetings to the Queen. Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen is supposed to come – can you confirm that?
Yes, I can confirm that. I was able to speak in person with the Federal President last Thursday (note: 8 September) at the Ambassadors’ Conference in Vienna. When news came that they would invite foreign heads of state, Hofburg naturally immediately indicated that the federal president would represent the Republic of Austria at the royal state funeral.
The schedule for the Federal President is currently very tight. What’s up here in London with the Federal President?
It must be remembered that a funeral is first and foremost a family affair. Portions of the ceremony until the actual burial are also reserved for the family and the closest members of the royal family. But heads of state from all over the world are also invited to the Queen’s funeral. Because of the importance of the state, but also out of personal respect for the Queen, a large number of heads of state, heads of government and other official representatives will attend. There will be two events: on the eve of the funeral there will be a reception by the King for Heads of State at Buckingham Palace – a good opportunity for everyone. Also to our Federal President, who already knows the new king well because Prince Charles was in Austria six years ago. So he will see the new king there and have the opportunity to meet him. The second event that heads of state attend is the burial at Westminster Abbey – a traditional, historic and majestic event that can be watched live on TV and our President will be there too. I think it’s a very good opportunity our president is taking advantage of here.
Finally, a personal question: Where will you be on Monday afternoon? Will you attend the funeral yourself or will you watch it on TV?
The ceremony at Westminster Abbey is for official guests only, and it’s important to remember members of the royal family and their relatives from all over Europe, as well as historically important British officials. These three large sets are perfect for Westminster Abbey. Ambassadors are not present in this case. We make sure the Federal President gets there, back, and that he can continue his program, which will then take him to New York.
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