A visit with the Queen
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-in-waiting.
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-in-waiting 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 hithertounnoticed 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.
Edward Roberts has had a lifelong interest in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was an MHA for 23 years, and served as the province’s lieutenant-governor from 2002 to 2008.