‘I stand in for the Queen’

We meet the re­mark­able lady who, as the of­fi­cial stand-in for the Queen, has helped re­hearse royal events from the Ju­bilee cel­e­bra­tions to VE Day

YOURS (UK) - - News - By Katharine Woot­ton

In her brightly coloured turquoise two-piece and match­ing hat Ella Slack looks con­fi­dently re­gal. But this 75-year-old for­mer BBC man­ager from the Isle of Man has closer royal con­nec­tions that you might guess. For more than three decades, Ella has been tak­ing the place of Her Majesty at the re­hearsals of royal events. By help­ing with the metic­u­lous plan­ning of her move­ments, she en­sures that all runs smoothly for the Queen at the ac­tual event. Al­though she likes to dress smartly, Ella is not a Queen look-alike, but her height (just under 5ft) and stature are sim­i­lar to the Queen’s. Th­ese have proved to be an in­valu­able as­set to event or­gan­is­ers and TV pro­duc­ers when work­ing out timings, routes and likely pace for Her Majesty on ma­jor royal oc­ca­sions. Ella first as­sumed her royal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in 1989 when work­ing for the BBC. “I was the man­ager for BBC sports and events and when plan­ning the Re­mem­brance Day cov­er­age it was de­cided that we needed to re­align the cam­eras be­cause in the past the Queen had stood for the two min­utes’ si­lence in front of the Ceno­taph with the sun in her eyes and they wanted to avoid that hap­pen­ing again,” says Ella. “At the time, all the stage man­agers at the BBC were tall men so they asked me if I’d mind com­ing along to stand where the Queen would be stand­ing so that they could work out the new cam­era an­gles.” Thanks to Ella step­ping in, the Re­mem­brance Day cov­er­age was a suc­cess so from then on she be­came the go-to per­son when a stand-in Queen was needed for re­hearsals. Over the fol­low­ing years, she as­sisted with count­less events in­clud­ing the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee pageant on the Thames and sev­eral State Open­ings of Par­lia­ment. One of her favourite oc­ca­sions was prac­tis­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of VJ Day cel­e­bra­tions when she had the op­por­tu­nity to ride in the Queen’s car­riage. “I also had to walk across Horse Guards’ Pa­rade with

two Gurkhas in front of me and then ride in the Queen’s car up the Mall. It was rather spe­cial,” says Ella. Be­ing a re­hearsal Queen doesn’t come with­out its share of dan­ger. “There was one near dis­as­ter when I was prac­tis­ing light­ing the beacon for the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee. The wind blew at the wrong mo­ment and sud­denly the car­pet caught fire. Af­ter that, they made a lot of changes to make sure it didn’t hap­pen again when the Queen lit it.” When she isn’t avert­ing what would have been a na­tional dis­as­ter, Ella’s job mostly con­sists of help­ing with the lo­gis­tics of get­ting the Queen from one place to an­other, swiftly and smoothly. This can take count­less at­tempts so the re­hearsals can last for hours. “Tim­ing is the big thing that events’ or­gan­is­ers and pro­duc­ers need to know. While we never know ex­actly how long the Queen might take to stop and chat to the public, I try to walk at her pace, which some­body much taller wouldn’t be able to do.” Ella’s height is also a great help in work­ing out the right height for mi­cro­phone stands and lecterns as for the 1989 Christ­mas Day broad­cast from the Royal Al­bert Hall, for ex­am­ple. With such a spe­cial job, it’s no won­der she has had ac­cess to some in­cred­i­bly spe­cial places – ones that are usu­ally only avail­able to mem­bers of the royal fam­ily, such as the in­side of Wind­sor Cas­tle and a num­ber of royal ve­hi­cles. How­ever, Ella says it isn’t all glam­our. “When you’re be­ing the re­hearsal Queen ev­ery­one is pay­ing at­ten­tion to you, but the minute you stop, you’re no­body. I re­mem­ber when we prac­tised the mil­len­nium beacon cel­e­bra­tions we re­hearsed how the Queen would sail up to the Mil­len­nium Dome, which she would of­fi­cially open, but once we got there they wouldn’t let me get off the boat as I didn’t have a pass. “I said I was the re­hearsal Queen but they still weren’t hav­ing it. So we ended up dock­ing some­where else and I had to climb this huge lad­der to get out,” she laughs. There have also been oc­ca­sions where I’ve got off boats where the Queen would nor­mally be picked up by a chauf­feured limou­sine and I’ve found my­self wan­der­ing the streets try­ing to hail a taxi.” While the Queen has an army of dress de­sign­ers at her dis­posal, Ella bought most of her out­fits her­self for the re­hearsals, in­clud­ing an im­i­ta­tion neck­lace from Wool­worths! Al­though she has never been paid for her work, she does it for the pure priv­i­lege of help­ing the Queen. Nowa­days, Ella, who has been re­tired from the BBC for 20 years, has wound down the num­ber of royal en­gage­ments she un­der­takes. Gen­er­ally, she does only one a year for the Fes­ti­val of Re­mem­brance at the Royal Al­bert Hall in Novem­ber. But she in­sists she will never give the job up al­to­gether. “I will do it for as long as the Queen does it as I ad­mire her hugely and think she is a won­der­ful lady. “Do­ing th­ese re­hearsals has cer­tainly given me an in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tive on what her life is like.”

‘When you’re be­ing the re­hearsal Queen ev­ery­one is pay­ing at­ten­tion to you. But the minute you stop, you’re no­body’

Ella is very sim­i­lar to Her Majesty in height and stature

ella re­hears­ing the Queen’s two min­utes’ si­lence in front of the Ceno­taph

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