The day I made the Queen laugh
With the British nation as well as many overseas countries celebrating HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on Sunday 5th June, I couldn’t help wondering exactly how many people Queen Elizabeth II must have met in her 70 year reign – how many hands she has shaken, how many bouquets of flowers she has accepted, the number of dinners, lunches and gala events she has attended, how many honours she has bestowed and how many Garden Parties she has held.
Queen Elizabeth II
The numbers must be staggering and, for all those thousands of people that she have shaken hands with, there must be thousands, if not millions, more that have never even seen our Monarch in the flesh.
I actually do have the honour to be one of those who has met the Queen, has attended one of her Garden Parties and has had an honour bestowed upon me by Her Majesty.
In 2006, my husband and I received an invitation to attend one of the Royal Garden Parties due to take place that summer at Buckingham Palace. Although I was Mayor of Fairford at the time, the invitation was actually sent to us because my husband had worked for the MOD Defence Fire Service for around 40 years!
Just one week before going to the Garden Party, I was attending the Gala Dinner at the Royal International Air Tattoo in my capacity as Mayor and happened to be seated next to one of the Queen’s Equerries. I mentioned that I would be at the Garden Party the following week and asked if he would be there. He replied that, unfortunately, he would not be on duty that day, but offered me some very valuable advice for the auspicious event.
He explained that around 8,000 people are invited to each Garden Party and that I probably wouldn’t know anyone there. He suggested that to get the most out of the day, my husband and I should approach different guests and ask them why they had been invited and learn more about the interesting and privileged people that get to attend a prestigious Garden Party.
He also explained that most of the people attending the Queen’s Garden Parties walk into Buckingham Palace through the ‘front door’ i.e. through the main gates in The Mall and across the courtyard. He said it was best to walk round to the back of Buckingham Palace and go in through the garden entrance, as there were less people queuing to go in there and you could then admire parts of the garden that you may otherwise miss if you had come in through the front. He further suggested that, when the Garden Party was over, my husband and I should leave via the ‘front door’, as it would then be possible to wander through Buckingham Palace without so many people being there, take a look at the beautifully ornate rooms, furnishings and works of art and then saunter out across the courtyard leaving via the ornate gates into The Mall.
We followed the Equery’s advice, dodged the long queue of people waiting to go into Buckingham Palace through the ‘front door’ and went round the back. To our delight, we found that we were the only ones using the garden entrance, where we were served glasses of lemonade – which were very welcome on a blisteringly hot July day!
Once in the gardens, we enjoyed wandering around looking at the beautiful flower beds, the colours of which matched the array of colours on a lot of the head-gear worn by men as well as women. One such man had dazzlingly colourful robes and wore a plumed headdress. We went over to him and his partner, introduced ourselves and asked who he was and why he was there at the Queen’s Garden Party. It turned out he was the Governor of Mauritius and was only too eager to tell us all about his wonderful country, which we eventually visited a few years later.
At some point during the Garden Party, the 8,000 or so guests were joined by Her Majesty, Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. They wandered round the grounds stopping to speak to people along the way and a few were even lucky enough to be presented to Her Majesty. We were not one of the lucky ones that day, but I did get very close to the Royal group and got involved in a long and interesting conversation with the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting, who knew Fairford very well.
Two years later in July 2008, I had the opportunity of seeing the Queen again. She was on an official engagement to RAF Fairford to present the airforce base with new Colours in celebration of its 90th anniversary. She arrived in style in a State car, clearly visible to the 5,000 specially invited guests, who were watching the ceremony on tiered seating – probably about 20 tiers high.
I was seated near the top of the tiered seating, so got a really good view of the Queen and the ceremony, but was also able to see looming in the far distance a massive black rain cloud coming relentlessly towards us all! Luckily, the Queen just made it back into her car in time to dodge the torrential downpour. But the guests were not so lucky, as we were not allowed to leave until the Queen had left, so we all had to stand there whilst the heavens opened with rain like stair-rods beating down on our heads and bouncing back up our legs off the tarmac runway, completely soaking us. I was wearing a summer dress, white blazer, red hat and open-toe sandals. The red dye from my hat dripped on to my white blazer and I had to take off my sandals because they became too slippery to run for cover in! Instead my bare feet splashed and paddled in the puddles covering the tarmac.
Just over a year later, HM The Queen reminded me of the downpour at RAF Fairford when I met her and spoke to her at my MBE ceremony. I had been honoured in HM The Queen’s 2009 Birthday Honours and went to Windsor Castle in November 2009 to receive my medal. She was aware that I had received my MBE for ‘services to the community of Fairford’ and told me that she remembered being at RAF Fairford the year before and recalled how everyone got drenched in a heavy downpour. It was all I could do to stop myself saying: “Yes, Ma’am, we all got drenched but not you!”
She also asked me what I had done in Fairford to merit being awarded the MBE and, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what I had done! Eventually, I managed to stutter that I had helped to build Fairford Community Centre. I actually meant that I had helped with project management and fundraising to build the Community Centre but, instead, the way I said it sounded as if I was a bricklayer! I did say to Her Majesty: “Oh I didn’t build it with my bare hands, just helped with fundraising” and she laughed. My daughter still reminds of the day I made the Queen laugh!
Looking back now on Queen Elizabeth II’s reign of 70 years, that began when I was just five years old, it seems that this incredible lady has always been in my life. She has seen the ups and downs of British history; met people from all walks of life; has to had bite her lip on many occasions; cut thousands of ribbons; launched numerous ships; flown tens of thousands of air miles; and has endured sadness and tragedy just like the rest of us, but has remained stoic and respected throughout.
Long live the Queen!