The Daily Telegraph
HER MAJESTY, REMEMBERED BY OUR ROYAL CORRESPONDENTS
The Telegraph’s palace reporters share their memories of covering some of Queen Elizabeth II’S most monumental events
As the world mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, our reporters look back on the years they have spent covering her royal engagements and the profound effect she had on people all over the world.
HANNAH FURNESS, ROYAL EDITOR, 2017 – PRESENT
I first understood what the late Queen meant to people during an engagement at Buckingham Palace, where I watched in disbelief as a succession of grown men emerged from their short conversations with her in tears. They had been invited to a drinks reception celebrating their community work through the churches, mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras of Britain, and their moment in the sun with Queen Elizabeth was the crowning moment of their lifetime of volunteering.
She didn’t say anything out of the ordinary – a simple thank you, a few questions about what they were doing – but her beaming smile and focused gaze made them feel like the centre of the world. They, men of a certain age, left the room with eyes welling up, speaking of how proud their own late parents would have been.
It was the peculiar magic of the late Queen. When I interviewed those who had spoken to her just moments afterwards, they would rarely remember what she said. But they would gush, barely able to get the words out, that their encounter was “amazing!”, Queen Elizabeth was “so lovely!” and her observations “so funny!” But what did she say? A puzzled look, and “I can’t actually remember.”
I began covering the Royal family for The Telegraph in 2017, seeing Queen Elizabeth in action only in her later years. After a lifetime of public service, the twinkle in her eye had not faded, and her obvious enjoyment of meeting people was undimmed.
The umpteenth posy presentation of her reign was met with a smile. Mothers of misbehaving toddlers – frantically trying to keep children under control when the VIP arrived – were offered a knowing glance that told them, “I have four children of my own, you know.” And a 2019 offer to “supervise” a tree-planting ceremony was given short shrift as she passed her handbag to a lady-in-waiting, grabbed a spade and told her hosts: “No no, I can still plant a tree.”
She was at her most fun on engagements involving animals. At Canine Partners, a charity that trains dogs to assist their disabled owners, Queen Elizabeth was delighted to be offered a posy by a puppy-in-training, who went off-script to drop it en route.
“Is he meant to do that?” she asked, beaming, of a young Labrador who skipped the last hurdle of his training course to play in a tunnel. “He’s missed out that end one!”
She stunned us all during London Fashion Week 2018 when she turned up in the front row of a very untraditional catwalk show with Anna Wintour.
During the US State Visit she appeared never less than charming and perfectly entertained by the visiting Trumps, ushering the then-president to walk on the correct side of her as they inspected the guards at Windsor Castle.
And she missed nothing. On one engagement at Westminster Abbey, I arrived to cover the visit with my notebook, pen and a layer of dust on my flat black boots from muddier jobs past. Only when I saw Queen Elizabeth’s fleeting but pointed glance at my feet from across the room did I notice I was slightly less than fully presentable. Afterwards, I asked an aide whether I imagined it. No, they said, she notices everything. I never wore those shoes again.
CAMILLA TOMINEY, REPORTING ON THE ROYAL FAMILY SINCE 2005
One of the questions people always ask me is “Who is your favourite Royal?” During nearly two decades on the beat, the answer has always been the same: Queen Elizabeth.
One of my fondest memories of the late
Queen was when I met her at a reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the Diamond Jubilee.
In December 2011, a then 85-year-old monarch invited the media to her London residence to thank them in advance for their participation in the celebrations the following June.
I remember it vividly because she was on sparkling form that night, not only because of the dress covered in twinkly jewels she wore, but also because she genuinely seemed happy to be there. She was so much more smiley in the flesh than the rather austere image on stamps and money would suggest.
Somehow I found myself in a small group of journalists including Andrew Marr and she chatted animatedly with us about the wisdom of allowing so many hacks through the palace gates. She was warm, engaging and funny. The close-up encounter made me realise the importance of her role – not just as head of state – but as grandmother of the nation.
Her cameraman Peter Wilkinson was filming the whole conversation and kindly sent me some still photographs of the exchange the following day.
I had largely forgotten about the images until it came to the concert, six months later, marking her 60 years on the throne, when Madness played Our House from the roof of Buckingham Palace.
As the band were belting out the wellknown hit, a montage of images flashed up on the palace walls – and there was my face, alongside Queen Elizabeth’s, in full technicolour! It was quite a moment and the picture remains on my Twitter profile to this day (you can see it @Camillatominey). I’ve had many photographs taken with the Royal family over the years, but this is the one I will always treasure the most.
I started reporting on the House of Windsor in 2005, just a few years before the late Queen stopped long-haul travel.
One of the best royal tours I have ever been on was her last ever visit to the United States in 2007, when as well as visiting George W Bush at the White House, Queen Elizabeth commemorated the 400th anniversary of the English settlement in Jamestown.
Thanks to Bush’s repeated gaffes, the trip was eminently newsworthy – but there was also a hilarious moment when, having been held for hours by the President’s security team, the snappers were finally released to move to their spots on the White House lawn.
Desperate to get the best position possible, they all started running, with all their heavy equipment, at great speed towards the risers. I think it was Queen Elizabeth’s press secretary who shouted: “What on earth are you doing? You are running after an 81-year-old woman!”
In 2015, I travelled with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Malta. They had returned to the island where they spent the first four years of their marriage at Villa Guardamangia, owned by Philip’s uncle Lord Mountbatten. Philip, who had been stationed there as a naval officer having been made second in command of HMS Chequers, was on cracking form and kept on winding people up before they met his wife.
“Shouldn’t you have shaved before meeting the Queen?” he ribbed a young man with a beard waiting patiently in a line-up.
Upon meeting a Catholic cardinal, he whispered in the clergyman’s ear: “I’ll let you in to a little secret. We are all Christians, you know!”
Earlier that year, I had travelled with the couple to Germany for what proved to be their last overseas visit together. Again Prince Philip’s devil-may-care attitude was on full display as Queen Elizabeth demonstrated her skills as the world’s best diplomat. Upon meeting a pair of doctors in Berlin, Philip declared: “If I had the choice I wouldn’t see any doctors at all. They all give you different opinions!”
Often the best part of covering these moments was seeing the late Queen’s reaction to her husband’s unexpected outbursts. That twinkle in her eye that I witnessed at the Diamond Jubilee reception was never far from view. They were an astonishing double act – the likes of which we will never see again.
GORDON RAYNER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Rarely as a reporter can you truly say you have witnessed history being made. The word “historic” is one of the more over-used in the English language, often applied to events that are forgotten by the following week.
I can, though, without fear of contradiction, lay claim to seeing history unfold before my eyes when the late Queen made a state visit to Ireland in 2011, a moment that defined greatness.
No monarch had visited the UK’S nearest neighbour since her grandfather George V exactly a century earlier, before the island of Ireland’s partition. Fears of a terrorist attack, and Irish antipathy towards Britain, had always ruled out another visit by a sovereign.
Ahead of her arrival there was a certain degree of nervousness. No one knew for sure how Queen Elizabeth’s presence would go down, or the extent to which there would be protests. We should have known better.
From the second her foot touched the tarmac at the Casement military air base outside Dublin, Queen Elizabeth – dressed in green, of course – was welcomed with open arms by the Irish people.
The Good Friday Agreement had marked the official end of The Troubles more than a decade earlier, but it took Queen Elizabeth’s presence to signal that relations between the two countries were finally “normalised”, as diplomats would say.
Her speech at Dublin Castle was pitchperfect, acknowledging the “sad and regrettable” mistakes of Britain’s relationship with Ireland. It was one of the most important of her reign, delivered by someone who, as she acknowledged, had been “personally” affected by the bloodshed that had gone before (Prince Philip’s beloved uncle, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was murdered by the IRA in 1979).
It was a speech that could only have been carried off by a stateswoman who had, over her long reign, earned the respect and admiration of everyone in the room that night. She even spoke Gaelic at one point, earning a one-word response from her host, President Mary Mcaleese: “Wow”.
On a visit to Croke Park, where 14 civilians had been shot dead by British forces 90 years earlier, I remember how she was greeted with applause as she confronted the past head-on. Then, on the final day of her visit, came perhaps the most remarkable moment of all.
Having been separated from the public by a ring of steel during her visit, Queen Elizabeth decided to go on an unscheduled walkabout in, of all places, Cork, known as the Rebel City because of its history of opposition to British rule.
Instead of climbing into her waiting car, she headed for the 5,000-strong crowd lining the streets, which went wild with excitement. Some of the people I spoke to had tears in their eyes; tears of pride, tears of joy, and tears that reflected the emotion of a day that will be spoken of in Cork for generations to come.
Among those who greeted her that day was Michael Browne, the mayor of Cashel and the first member of Sinn Fein to shake hands with Queen Elizabeth. His party, which had opposed the visit, said it was “surprised” he had done so, but when the monarch offered her hand, he couldn’t help himself. For Queen Elizabeth, it was duty, carried out with grace.
I saw an even more significant handshake the following year, when Queen Elizabeth came face to face with former IRA commander Martin Mcguinness in Belfast.
Mcguinness was a man who had once embodied an organisation intent on murdering members of the Royal family, but when Queen Elizabeth looked him in the eye and offered a gloved hand, her face lit up in a smile, Mcguinness responded in kind.
It was, he later said, a “very nice” moment. Even someone who had once wished her dead had been swept up by her courage, her dignity and her kindness. It was the effect she had on everyone she met, and no one will ever match it.