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Princess Diana died Aug. 31, 1997, at 36 after a car she was riding in crashed in Paris while paparazzi were in pursuit. Blair, now 69, was only months into what would be a 10-year tenure as Britain's prime minister, a position that offers an extraordinary view into the British monarchy.
As the world reflects on the life of Queen Elizabeth, who died Sept. 8 at 96, Blair recalled during an interview on Today the challenges she faced after the sudden death of Prince William and Prince Harry's mother.
"It was difficult, but here's the thing, she was trying to balance what she had to do as a queen and what she had to do as a grandmother," Blair told Today host Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday. "And she was acutely aware that she had two young, young children who had lost their mother in terrible circumstances, and who were grieving and who needed to be looked after."
The Queen initially stayed silent following Diana's death as criticism mounted, but finally delivered a rare, televised speech on Sept. 5, addressing the grieving British public as both "your Queen" and "as a grandmother."
"In the end, she understood, because always her duty came first. She had to respond to this extraordinary outpouring of grief about Princess Diana, but grief. And unlike her own passing now, mixed with — maybe anger's too strong a word — a sense that something had happened that shouldn't have happened, and that Diana had been taken from people who really did love her," Blair said during his appearance on Today.
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The former prime minister, who was appointed Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter by the Queen earlier this year, said the late monarch "didn't need me to tell her" there was a need then to comfort a nation in mourning over the death of one of its most beloved royals.
"She sensed it, and then she responded," Blair continued. "And when she responded, she responded perfectly. She got the tone absolutely right."
Queen Elizabeth's ability to stay attuned to the sentiments of her subjects remained intact throughout her life, according to Blair, whose final meeting with her took place just a few months before she died in Scotland at Balmoral Castle.
"She was in amazing form. She was warm and humorous and interested in everything," Blair said of that last visit. "She kept a very, very keen and sharp eye on the country and how it was changing and what its people thought right up until the end."
During his time leading the country, former Prime Minister Blair met weekly — and in private — with the Queen.
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"She was above it, above politics," Blair told Guthrie. "When I was appointed prime minister, I remember she said to me, her first words to me, 'My first prime minister was Winston [Churchill], and that was before you were born.' So she had this extraordinary grip on history."
Blair recalled a visit Queen Elizabeth made to the north of England, where he lived as a boy.
"I remember standing in the street and waving my little flag as she drove by," he said. "For someone of my generation, she was all we'd known, and we'd grown up with her, and therefore when you're suddenly her prime minister, it's a pretty humbling moment."
Years later, an intimate visit to Balmoral Castle allowed Blair a rare glimpse at the normalcy of the Royal Family at home, he said.
"They lay the table, they serve the food, they do the washing up afterward," Blair revealed. "And I was still obviously a very new prime minister, very nervous being there, and it was a completely surreal event where the Queen was serving me the food, and I wasn't allowed to even go and get the plate."
The prime minister was in disbelief after spending that time with the Queen. "That was when I realized it was an extraordinary thing to be a prime minister," he said.
During his interview with Guthrie, Blair also looked ahead at the new reign of the Queen's son, King Charles III, and expressed confidence in the U.K.'s new head of state.
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"I think he'll be a great monarch," the former prime minister said. "I think that he's a very caring person. He was way ahead of his time. He was talking about climate change when most people didn't even know what the word meant."
"So, I think he's got all of that experience, and he's watched his mother, and he knows now he's in a different position," he added.
Blair also shared his optimistic view of the monarchy — and the future of the institution.
"It sort of gives you a sense of, for us at least, our history and the long nature of our country's identity and traditions," he said. "There's always a debate all the time that runs throughout any modern country with a monarchy because in one sense it's a complete anomaly in a world that's not very deferential, that dislikes hierarchy, that distrusts class, that often frowns upon tradition."
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"But on the other hand, I think, and this was the Queen's genius in a way, was to combine that tradition with being comfortable with the modern world," Blair continued. "But for us, this is part of our tradition. We enjoy the tradition. I think the monarchy's strong, and I think he will keep it strong."