A visit with the queen

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

The limou­sine moves quickly down the Mall, the mag­nif­i­cent cer­e­mo­nial av­enue in cen­tral London that runs from Trafal­gar Square to Buck­ing­ham Palace. The driver swings around Queen Vic­to­ria’s statue be­fore stop­ping at the se­cu­rity bar­rier pro­tect­ing one of the side gates to the Palace.

A po­lice of­fi­cer checks the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the pas­sen­gers against a list of ex­pected vis­i­tors, ma­noeu­vres a mir­ror to check for bombs un­der­neath the car, and then waves the driver for­ward. A mo­ment later, he guides the ve­hi­cle through the cen­tral arch­way and into the in­ner quad­ran­gle, sur­rounded on all four sides by the Palace.

Liv­er­ied foot­men open the doors, and a uni­formed equerry — a ma­jor in a Guards reg­i­ment, wear­ing a dress uni­form com­plete with sword — wel­comes the prin­ci­pal guest and his party. They are taken into the Palace through the main en­trance, up a stair­well, around a corner, and into a com­fort­able large draw­ing room where they are greeted by a Lady-in­Wait­ing.

The Queen, she ex­plains, is run­ning a lit­tle be­hind sched­ule, be­cause the prime min­is­ter had sent word to the Palace ear­lier that morn­ing to ask if Her Majesty would be good enough to re­ceive a visit from an Arab dig­ni­tary on short no­tice. The Lady- in­Wait­ing and the guests sit, and chat about the news of the day. Come and sit The equerry, when asked how one will know that the au­di­ence is at an end, replies, “have no fear, Her Majesty will let you know.” He goes off, to check on the au­di­ence sched­ule.

A few min­utes later, the Equerry comes back to the guests, and asks them to fol­low him to a small sit­ting room. The Queen is stand­ing in the door­way. She wel­comes the guests in­di­vid­u­ally as they are pre­sented by the equerry.

Each man bows — the so-called Court bow, a slight in­cline of the neck — and the women curt­sey. “Good morn­ing, Your Majesty,” they say in re­sponse to her greet­ing. The flash of a cam­era from an hith­erto-un­no­ticed pho­tog­ra­pher and the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Equerry are the pre­lude to an in­vi­ta­tion by the Queen to “come, and sit by me.”

El­iz­a­beth II has been Queen of Eng­land — Queen reg­nant, to be pre­cise, be­cause she rules in her own right, and not sim­ply as the con­sort of the King — for 60 years. Only one other Monarch, Queen Vic­to­ria, has reigned longer.

Sir Win­ston Churchill, the great­est English­man of the 20th cen­tury, was the first to serve her as prime min­is­ter when she be­came Queen on Feb. 6, 1952, the day her fa­ther, King Ge­orge VI, died.

Ten men and one woman have held the of­fice since Churchill re­tired in 1955. Louis St. Lau­rent was Prime Min­is­ter of Canada in 1952; one woman, Kim Camp­bell, and nine other men — in­clud­ing John Diefen­baker, Lester Pear­son, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mul­roney, Jean Chré­tien and Stephen Harper — have led the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment since then.

She has known 12 Pres­i­dents of the United States, run­ning from Eisen­hower, Kennedy and John­son to Clin­ton, the two Bushes, and Barack Obama. Queen is well-in­formed A beau­ti­ful, pe­tite woman, el­e­gantly dressed and wear­ing ex­quis­ite jew­ellery, Her Majesty quickly en­gages her vis­i­tors in con­ver­sa­tion and puts them at their ease. She has trav­elled widely, and is ex­tremely well-in­formed. She speaks eas­ily and freely about the peo­ple and places she shares with her guests. She re­calls her vis­its to the vis­i­tors’ home­land, and her mem­o­ries of the peo­ple she met there.

The Queen first came to New­found­land in 1951, less than a year be­fore the death of her fa­ther. She has seen a great deal of New­found­land and Labrador in her vis­its since then — Deer Lake, Corner Brook and Stephenville in western New­found­land; Bon­av­ista to greet the replica of Cabot’s Matthew on June 24, 1997, the 500th an­niver­sary of Cabot’s ar­rival; North West River, Shet­shat­shiu and Happy Val­ley-goose Bay.

She has stayed at Gov­ern­ment House in St. John’s and in the spa­cious suite at Straw­berry Hill, on the Hum­ber River, that Bowa­ter’s built es­pe­cially for her. In­deed, she has made more vis­its to New­found­land and Labrador dur­ing her 60 years on the Throne than those made by all of her pre­de­ces­sors since the first Royal Visit, by Queen Vic­to­ria’s son the Prince of Wales (later Ed­ward VII), in 1860.

Her Majesty speaks frankly, be­cause she knows that none of those who visit her will ever re­peat her pri­vate re­marks. She smiles pleas­antly, laughs at witty re­marks, and makes her vis­i­tors feel as if they were in a pri­vate home, in­stead of the grandeur of Buck­ing­ham Palace.

The al­lot­ted time speeds by. The vis­i­tors present a gift, an item of “mod­est value” that will re­mind her of their home­land. She stands and says, “Thank you so much for com­ing. I have en­joyed meet­ing you.”

The au­di­ence is over. The Equerry ac­com­pa­nies the guests back to their wait­ing limou­sine, and then it’s out onto the Mall and back home. The ex­pe­ri­ence is one never to be for­got­ten.

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