The story behind Queen Elizabeth's friendship with Billy Graham
Queen Elizabeth II was just two years into her reign as Queen when evangelist Billy Graham came to London for one of his 'crusades.' Fascinated, she invited him for a private meeting. The rest, as they say, is history.
Renowned Christian evangelist Billy Graham passed away on Wednesday at the ripe old age of 99 from natural causes. Known for his calm demeanor, glowing persona, and undeniable charm, Graham was one of the most popular religious figures of the past two centuries and was often listed among the 'Ten Most Admired Men in the World.'
While televangelism is frowned upon these days by the masses, it was Graham who saw tv's potential to spread the message of Christianity and used it to spread his message of spiritual redemption across America as well as the world. His standing among the Americans was perfectly summarized by Washington Post journalist Gary Wills, who wrote: "Billy Graham is the closest thing to a national pope we shall ever see."
Graham reportedly holds the record for preaching to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history, with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website claiming his audience count clocked in at over 215 million people in 185 countries and territories. Very well-traveled, his journeys brought him in touch with some of the world's most powerful people and Graham used these opportunities to make significant alliances.
Through his long and decorated career, Graham served as a spiritual advisor to several US presidents and popularly helped President George W. Bush quit drinking. He also reportedly had a similar impact across the Atlantic Ocean, where he is said to have become close to a then-young Queen Elizabeth II.
Graham began his quest to convert the people of the world to Christianity in the 1950s, embarking on his all-encompassing 'crusades' in various nations. In 1955, traveled to Great Britain and London to address the 'greatest religious congregation, 120,000, ever seen in the British Isles.' His 12-week stint attracted 12 million people in total.
A devout and traditional Christian herself - the Queen supposedly takes after her mother and grandmother and prays every night by kneeling before her bed - could not go to one of his rallies herself, so decided to have the preacher brought to her for a private meeting.
While there is no written account of the event, Queen Elizabeth's reaction to the speech was most-recently dramatized in Netflix's mini-series The Crown. The pair is said to have met for the first time in 1955 after a then-29-year-old Queen, who was still only two years into her now-record reign as monarch, became fascinated by Graham after watching footage of him on television.
Despite Prince Philips' and the Queen Mother's doubts, she asked for a meeting with him and reportedly told him: "You do speak with such wonderful clarity and certainty. Above all things, I do think of myself as just a simple Christian."
Graham recalled his meeting with the Queen in his 1997 autobiography Just As I Am, writing: "Good manners do not permit one to discuss the details of a private visit with Her Majesty, but I can say that I judge her to be a woman of rare modesty and character," adding: "No one in Britain has been more cordial toward us than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II."
He also addressed the fact that the Queen was not openly allowed to endorse his crusades because of her position: "Almost every occasion I have been with her has been in a warm, informal setting, such as a luncheon or dinner, either alone or with a few family members or other close friends," he continued. "Her official position has prevented her from openly endorsing our Crusade meetings. But by welcoming us and having me preach on several occasions to the royal family at Windsor and Sandringham, she has gone out of her way to be quietly supportive of our mission."
The show depicts Graham, played by Paul Sparks, as a spiritual adviser to the young queen, helping her confront and resolve several conflicting revelations - including one where she learns that her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, consorted with the Nazi regime during the war.
Speaking of the episode, writer and creator Peter Morgon told Vanity Fair: "The Billy Graham episode is about Elizabeth wanting to deepen her Christianity. She stops reflecting on forgiveness as a central tenant of Christianity at precisely the time that she’s asked whether she can or can’t forgive her uncle for meeting with Nazis and a general inclination toward appeasement.
While the pair did share an amicable relationship, Franklin told the Washington Post that the pair may not have been as close as the show depicted. That claim is backed up by the infamous 'Billy Graham rule' where he refuses to meet alone with another woman.
However, the pair reportedly became good friends over the following decades; Graham would be invited to preach when he came to visit the UK. His son, Franklin, claimed his father preached several times at the Queen's private chapel, including Easter Sunday in 1995 - and she would visit him when she was traveling across the US. He was even given an honorary knighthood in 2001.
Robert Lacey, The Crown's historical consultant told People: "[The Queen] has always been deeply religious. She was close to the Rev. Billy Graham in his prime, inviting him to preach at Windsor whenever he was in Britain, and meeting up with him when she visited the States. He helped her with a Christmas broadcast in the ‘90s," adding that the Queen's Christian faith was fundamental to her in 'an old-time evangelical way.'
Fox News reported that, following his death, Queen Elizabeth would be reaching out to Billy Graham's family and will be sending them a private message of condolence.
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