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How the death of Queen Elizabeth will change the U.K.'s diplomatic profile

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many around the world continue to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II who died yesterday at the age of 96.

CAROLINE BEATTIE: She's just an amazing woman that's gone through so many different, amazing things in this world and tragedies, too. And she's rose above them all, right to the day she died.

GREG DONOVAN: As a child, I remember, oh, I always wanted to meet her. To me, she's bigger than any movie star ever. That's why I say she's probably the biggest star that ever was.

MOHIN KUMAR: More than anyone else, the queen understood that Britain centers itself as an old country with modern outlook. Huge conglomerates like Unilever, GSK, HSBC Bank were all founded in her times.

MARTIN: There was Caroline Beattie (ph), a British expat in Santa Monica, Calif., Greg Donovan (ph), also in Santa Monica, and Mohini Kumar (ph) from India. In Barbados, which fully broke constitutional ties with the monarchy just a year ago, the president, Sandra Mason, said independence did not diminish her nation's friendship with Britain or with Buckingham Palace. While tributes continue, there are questions, though, about what the queen's death means for the U.K. and the monarchy itself. On the line with us now is the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Jane Hartley. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us.

JANE HARTLEY: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I mean, the queen oversaw so much history. It's hard to track it all. What stands out to you when you look at the totality of her 70 years on the throne?

HARTLEY: Well, first of all, I'd like to express my sincere condolences to the royal family. I am in London now. I am at Winfield House. And I will tell you, the country is heartbroken. I was with my U.K. team yesterday when the news broke. It really is an end of an era, and everybody had tears in their eyes. And I think everybody knew it was coming, but somehow, it still felt too soon.

MARTIN: So say more about that era. When people say, as they have over the last 24 hours, it is the end of an era, what does that mean? What was her era defined by?

HARTLEY: Well, I think as you look at the 70 years - first of all, she began - the first - her first prime minister was Prime Minister Churchill, who was born in 1874. Her last prime minister was Prime Minister Truss, who was born in 1974. I mean, it is amazing. She met every U.S. president except, I think, for LBJ. And the other thing for me, I'm the second woman ambassador in the U.K., the first after 50 years. I can't imagine what it was like for her 70 years ago as a world leader and really being the only woman. So I just have the deepest, deepest respect for her and for her legacy.

MARTIN: She saw herself as a steward of sorts, a steward of this institution, of the monarchy, which has existed for a thousand years. But were there moments when she herself, Elizabeth, changed the course of history?

HARTLEY: Well, I think she changed the course of history in her commitment to values for democracy, to freedom, to humanitarian values. And I think she did that throughout - really, throughout her time. And what touched me the most was just her commitment. I think she said when she was 21 years old that her life commitment would be to this country, this country the U.K. And what sort of brought me to tears this week, frankly, is that two days before her death, she asked Prime Minister Truss to form a new government. And I think once again she realized how important that was because as we know, there are difficult days in the U.K. right now with the economy, with the cost of living, with the war in Ukraine. So she felt right to the end that she had to lead.

MARTIN: You've met the queen. You haven't been in your job for very long, but I understand you had some interactions with her.

HARTLEY: I did. I met her when I presented credentials. That is a process that every American ambassador goes through when you first come to the U.K. And the day I presented credentials happened to be the hottest day in London history. And there is a formal process that every American ambassador goes through. The queen sends a horse and carriage for you. It was too hot that day for the horses, so the queen insisted on sending me her car, which was just extremely kind. I told her it wasn't necessary, but she did. She cared about my own personal happiness.

MARTIN: She always cared about the person in the moment. U.S. ambassador to the U.K. Jane Hartley, we appreciate your time.

HARTLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.