Wednesday, 25 February 2015

How I almost met the Queen

I almost met the Queen on more than one occasion. The first was when a full royal cortege arrived to open a new building at the college where I was working. A queue of us was all lined up to be introduced to Her Majesty and exchange a few harmless pleasantries, but Prince Philip, quite understandably, got bored and broke ranks to come and chat to our end of the line, with the result that when the Queen's minders saw that we were so engaged, they sailed right past us.
   I'm sorry to have to confess that on this royal visit I committed a major solecism. We had all been carefully instructed that we should never under any circumstances initiate a topic of conversation when meeting a member of the royal family: it was absolutely forbidden. I thought: how ghastly for them; always having to start conversations themselves! Poor things! I'd hate that! My responsibility on this occasion was to escort a minor royal (I won't name him) around the premises. He had so little to say that I actually asked him a question about what he thought of the new building. I must report that he showed no sign of being offended at this grave breach of protocol.

   I did have a proper conversation with Prince Philip on a later visit to the college. One of my jobs there was to run a little bookshop for the students, since there was none in the town. The room was all vetted beforehand, with a police dog having a good sniff at all my books, and then Prince Philip had a look round. His eye was caught by a two-volume life of Margaret Thatcher which had recently been published, and asked me why there were two volumes. I explained that one was about her before she became Prime Minister and the other was about her as Prime Minister. For a moment I got the impression that he was about to tell me what he actually thought of Mrs Thatcher, but if that was ever the case then discretion prevailed and he said nothing.
 Next door to my bookshop was the careers office, where the man in charge had laid out a survey of where our students went. Prince Philip swept this aside and asked, "Got any details of how many get sent to prison?" The college authorities who were in attendance did not look pleased. I suppose if we'd thought quickly enough we could have made some little joke about "being guests of your lady wife", but of course you only think of these things long after the occasion has passed.

My final near-meeting was when we went to a school polo tournament in Windsor Great Park. Just before the final was due to start there was an announcement over the public address system, "When the tournament is finished, will all teams gather together at control". What then happened was that the Queen drove up, unannounced, in her own Jaguar to present the trophies and meet the teams. There was no security whatsoever: her car passed within a few yards of me, and despite the fact that I was holding a camera with a long telephoto lens, nobody took any notice at all.
    What followed could have been a lot better. Our team had expected to do well, but unfortunately had performed disappointingly and had been eliminated early on. In consequence, the captain had gone home in disgust; the second member of the team had changed out of his kit and was introduced to the Queen whilst wearing a pair of disgusting purple shorts, and the youngest member was so nervous that he addressed the Queen as "Sir" throughout their conversation. It wasn't one of our greatest moments.

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