As Ray Davies** sang in his 1967 song David Watts, I too never met the Queen during her long and glorious reign, but I did meet Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in unusual circumstances, during my teens.
I can, though, honourably own up to a very personal smile and wave from the Queen, in the early 1970s. I had heard that she was visiting Sheffield, and would be arriving by train into the city’s entirely unmemorable railway station – what we would have given for a Bristol Temple Meads, or a Darlington even. I found a decent crowd outside together with a Royal limousine at the ready. I positioned myself somewhat away from the crowd on a traffic island, having guessed the side on which she would be sitting. I was right. The limo purred away towards the city centre, right past where I was standing on my own. This coincided with Her Majesty looking at me four-square in the face, with her radiant smile and a wave for me and me alone. Lovely….
Meeting the Queen Mother was a different experience, if only because I wasn’t expecting it. Yes, I knew that both she and Sir Harold Macmillan (former Prime Minister) were present for our school centenary celebrations, but I wasn’t one of the great and good who were lined up to shake the Royal hand. My duty for the day was to play soporific music under an awning – our Combined Cadet Force Band in action!
I played a Tenor Cor, a brass horn instrument. Why was I in the Band? Playing soldiers was never really my thing, especially following the moment I had my top two front-teeth knocked out by a probing rifle whilst hiding in a bush during a night exercise. Apart from that, sitting in a warm music rehearsal room along with 20+ other musicianly skivers was far preferable to square-bashing. We still had to keep our kit clean, but that was a small price to pay.
Back to that summer’s day in 1965, and our afternoon medley was progressing apace, with Henry Mancini’s wonderful Moon River being one of the easiest (and more enjoyable) pieces to play. Not too many note changes, just keep up the rhythm and feeling, so I closed my eyes and lived the moment. Knowing we were approaching the final notes of the piece, I opened my eyes, and what to my amazement should confront me, but the Queen Mother standing the far side of my music stand with a regally wry half smile on her face. Macmillan’s drooping eyelids and moustache did not betray any particular sentiment, one way or the other. My memory doesn’t tell me that I let the band down at that moment by issuing forth a bum note, but I may have stopped blowing until she was past me to smile wryly at some of my fellow bandsmen (for it was an all male ensemble).
It has been wonderful to hear in these days since Queen Elizabeth’s death, that for all the pomp and seriousness of their everyday responsibilities, both the Queen and her mother had well-developed senses of humour in more private – and even some public – moments.
Our kingdom would not be as it is without their good works and service, and for certain, Elizabeth’s quietly guiding hand and influence behind the scenes, will be sorely missed. This is not a monarchist writing, just one Englishman who can see something of what they have brought to our everyday lives. There have been some marvellous tributes written and spoken from across the world. One amazing life….
** Ray Davies did meet the Queen in 2004 when being invested with his CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) medal. She said ‘So many songs’ to him at the time. Sir Ray Davies was knighted in the New Year Honours List in 2017 for services to the arts. The then Prince Charles officiated at the ceremony in Buckingham Palace.