The Queen could not possibly remember all the people she met – but nobody ever forgot meeting her

For almost all of us, the Queen has always been part of our lives. Now that she has gone, we are calling up personal memories of her.

I have met the Queen. My justification for writing about it here is that our encounters were in my line of duty as a political correspondent and that I am the only reporter ever in her long reign to have “doorstepped” the Queen, getting her to talk albeit briefly about a matter of policy.

I was covering the CHOGM – the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – in Vancouver in 1987, when the Queen, as head of the Commonwealth, came on a walkabout around the media centre.

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I asked what the rules were and was told no camera lights, but please talk to her.

So when she came to our editing booth I said hello and then realised she was pausing for more conversation, so I asked about the story I was working on. It lasts all of 19 seconds.

AB: Are you looking forward to the summit, at all?

HMQ: Yes, it will be very interesting. Rather busy.

AB: Are you worried about Fiji, Sri Lanka?

HMQ: Well, yes, I think it’s very sad, yes. Very sad.

AB: He [referring to Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney escorting her] thinks you’ve got a further statement to make on the subject.

HMQ: I know, [nodding and smiling] we’ve all been hearing that.

AB: Is it true?

HMQ : Ah-hah! [turns to leave]

MULRONEY: No comment [smiling]

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1991. Pic: AP

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I never intended to get a scoop. I’d checked we were allowed to have the camera rolling because I thought my bosses back at TV-am would like to see the monarch visiting the team.

But the footage made front page news around the world and led the BBC and ITV evening news, even though I was working for breakfast television.

There were few repercussions for my lese-majeste. I was not beheaded.

The Queen’s press secretary drawled: “We knew it would happen some day. We’re just sorry it was one of our own.”

I continued to get invitations – or rather in the Queen’s case “commands” – to attend official functions.

You are not allowed to skulk at the back at these receptions.

The royal flunkeys keep a beady eye out to make sure all the guests speak to the Queen.

So at the next CHOGM in Malaysia, I found myself on the deck of the royal yacht Britannia confessing to my impertinence.

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The life of the Queen

“Oh, it was you!”, the Queen observed, smiling before moving on to polite small talk.

The invitations kept coming, including to a memorable post-Diana “re-set” reception for the British media at Windsor Castle.

In spite of the obvious dislike of the media displayed by Prince Charles and Prince William, the royal firm worked hard to maintain cordial relations with “opinion formers”.

The Queen didn’t give interviews, but she was a welcoming host off the record.

At a similar tech event in London, Kay Burley introduced the Queen to the wonders of the Sky electronic programme guide.

The hapless John Major was locked in simultaneous negotiations with the EU when the Queen commanded our presence in Edinburgh.

File photo dated 9/6/1999 of former Prime Minister John Major receives the Companion of Honour from the Queen, at Buckingham Palace in London. Issue date: Thursday June 2, 2022.
Former prime minister John Major and the Queen in 1999

The prime minister’s timetable ruled out cocktail-o’clock drinks. We were commanded instead to Holyrood Palace for morning coffee.

The earliness of the hour didn’t stop Princess Anne turning on the charm for the hacks, and Prince Philip making small talk with his characteristic bluntness.

It is fitting that the Queen’s last public duty was political and one of her most important functions as Head of State overseeing the transfer of power between heads of government – the chief executives to her chairmanship of the UK plc board.

She summoned both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss to Balmoral for the “kissing of hands”.

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It must have been a chastening experience for both prime ministers.

Boris Johnson because the Queen had lived to see the disgraced exit of the prime minister she first met as a bumptious young man and who had misled her with his advice.

Liz Truss because she cut her teeth as a young Liberal Democrat calling for an end to the monarchy. Elizabeth II lived to put both of them in their place.

The Queen could not possibly remember all the people she has met – in the millions according to some estimates. But nobody ever forgets meeting the Queen.

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