I acquired right into a taxi one afternoon in November 2007 — a type of black cabs London is known for. I used to be all dressed up, a flower in my hair, and was carrying two yellow roses tinged with crimson that I had taken from a flower association.
“You look beautiful,” the driving force mentioned to me, glancing in his rear-view mirror. “You going someplace particular?”
“Really, I simply got here from someplace — I met the queen,” I mentioned. He checked out me, longer this time, and informed me how fortunate I used to be.
“Some folks reside to be 100 and by no means meet the Queen.”
That’s when the magnitude of the day actually hit me; Queen Elizabeth II, then aged 81, had already been on the throne for 55 years. She had steered the UK from post-WWII poverty and devastation, by means of the transformation from an Empire to a Commonwealth, by means of the tip of the twentieth century and into the twenty first.
The Queen was the patron of the London school I had attended the earlier 12 months and was coming to go to, and I used to be one of many fortunate alumni invited.
We had been informed to reach early for a protocol briefing.
We had been positioned in small, pre-determined teams organized by the faculty with the format communicated to Buckingham Palace workers, as was the norm for such occasions.
The faculty secretary went by means of the record of dos and don’ts:
- Don’t contact Her Majesty until she affords her hand
- Don’t converse until spoken to
- Name her ‘Your Majesty’ the primary time, then ma’am as in rhymes with jam
- Don’t flip your again on the Queen
- Don’t ask private questions
- Don’t speak about politics or information (there was an inquiry into the loss of life of Princess Diana underway)
After every level, the secretary would look sharply at me, as if I might be the one to embarrass the faculty within the presence of the Queen.
“One factor Her Majesty doesn’t get pleasure from,” he informed the 100 or so of us gathered, “is to have a room go silent when she enters.” He instructed us to please hold speaking to one another in well mannered tones when she arrived.
I wasn’t involved we might go silent. This room was skilled — diplomats, army officers, senior authorities officers, all well-practiced within the artwork of small speak.
Prince Philip had accompanied the Queen and got here to talk with our group first whereas she was in one other room. I don’t bear in mind a lot of what was mentioned, besides that it was well mannered, perfunctory, and he was very tall.
Quickly after, the imposing wood doorways main into the room swung open and there she was — Queen Elizabeth II.
The gentleman I had been talking with a second earlier than went silent, so did the remainder of our group.
“No, no,” I mentioned in a soothing tone. “Hold speaking — it doesn’t matter about what — speak to one another about what you had for breakfast, however hold speaking.”
The faculty commandant, a knighted former admiral, accompanied Her Majesty and commenced to introduce our group. When he got here to a Romanian diplomat, the Queen mentioned, “Ah sure, didn’t we meet earlier than?” and talked about a earlier perform whose particulars I now overlook. The Romanian diplomat was delighted, breaking right into a smile as she mentioned “Sure Ma’am” (as in jam).
I don’t know whether or not the Queen had been well-briefed or truly remembered the assembly, however I recall marvelling at how shortly she had put everybody relaxed. Tens of hundreds of occasions she had been on the centre of occasions like this and he or she appeared curious and glad, centered simply on us.
She was carrying a tan and cream skirt swimsuit, and somebody got here and positioned a glass of cranberry juice into her gloved fingers — cream-coloured gloves. The glass was VERY full, and as she chatted with others in our group, I feared it might spill — nobody had informed me the etiquette for that.
Might I point out it? Dare I? That might be talking earlier than spoken to AND interrupting. What if she spilled and I hadn’t mentioned something? The commandant saved the day, gently eradicating the juice and changing it with a less-full glass.
As I contemplated the protocol points, the Queen turned to me.
“And I perceive you’re the solely journalist to ever have attended right here,” she mentioned, earlier than asking me why. “Who wouldn’t need to come right here Your Majesty?” I mentioned, gesturing to these standing in our semi-circle. “You’ve an Indonesian army officer subsequent to a Turkish diplomat, subsequent to a Romanian one,” I mentioned, going by means of our complete group, saying there wasn’t one other course on the planet that would have supplied me this.
She requested me who paid my tuition, as others had been sponsored by their international locations or organisations. “I did,” I mentioned.
After which she moved on.
I felt as if I had hit a diplomatic dwelling run — in entrance of the Queen no much less. I had remembered everybody’s particulars, acquired to incorporate the entire group in our chat — no gaffes, no embarrassment.
Later, we watched as she and Prince Philip descended the grand onyx staircase and took their go away.
Nonetheless feeling fairly happy with myself, I went to the eating room for lunch. As I used to be nearly to select up a sandwich, the commandant got here in and mentioned, “What did you say to Her Majesty?” within the booming authoritative tone of a former army commander.
“Me? I didn’t say something about something,” I stammered, wracking my mind about how I might have tousled. “As I used to be escorting her out, Her Majesty requested about why you paid your solution to come right here,” the commandant mentioned.
I informed him she had requested me the preliminary query and I had answered.
“Does that imply I’ll get a refund?”
“No,” he answered emphatically.
The Queen had spoken to at the very least 100 folks after our temporary encounter — I used to be astonished that she remembered that element.
There are pictures of that day, however none of me talking with the Queen. Perhaps it’s higher that manner.
For a couple of moments, I used to be within the presence of a lady who had seen greater than most of us would see in 100 lifetimes. I regarded into her curious and smiling eyes, watched as she laughed together with a few of my colleagues, and I felt her real sense of responsibility and obligation.
She left an indelible mark.