“The exceptional woman I was privileged to see around the world”

Michael Cole, former BBC Royal Correspondent
Exklusive for xBN: Michael Cole, long-standing BBC Royal Correspondent, who used to accompany Queen Elizabeth II on her many travels. With the new King Charles III he visited Vienna in 1986.

The Queen was not the slightest bit grand. Her job was grand, but she had a natural modesty that meant the Crown never went to her head.

She took great pride in performing her unique role perfectly and was only\ever cross if she was late simply because she knew it would inconvenience the people waiting to see her.

So, overseas tours ran on “Queen’s time”, precisely. If the little blue book that Buckingham Palace published to detail every engagement said that at one o’clock the Queen would be sitting down to lunch on board the Royal Yacht as Britannia entered Bahamian waters with four of her Commonwealth Prime Ministers then at 1,00 p.m. the monarch and four politicians would sit down as Nassau came in sight and the first course would be placed quietly before them.

When 11 government heads went on an unscheduled booze cruise around the islands and arrived very late at the official banquet, the Queen took charge, bossing the group photograph so that dinner would not be spoiled. The Queen was always sensitive to the feelings of her staff and did not wish the chefs to be disappointed by their hard work being spoiled.

It was not for me to feel proud of the Queen, but I often was, she looked so alone when she stood in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in her silver gown, Garter sash and tiara to make an historic speech to the unsmiling Communist hierarchy who her son Charles had described undiplomatically as “ghastly old waxworks”. They were inscrutable and then she was required to sit down to enjoy a dinner including sea slug,

In Belize she was not daunted by having to eat a jungle rodent at the official banquet which prompted the headline: “QUEEEN EATS RAT”. And she did, with a smile.

The Queen had quite remarkable patience. When she opened a cement works in Barbados, a young man in a suit spent 40 minutes explaining with slides how cement is made. The Queen stood perfectly still on her size 4 feet seemingly fascinated by his presentation. Eventually he stopped and people like me started to think about a drink before lunch when the young man said: “And then there is the other way to make cement. The Queen continued to pay rapt attention.

The Queen liked to see and hear new things. In Belize she flew in a small aircraft over the jungle spotting all the cannabis plantations growing “Belize Breeze,” high grade hemp. “Fascinating, isn’t it?” said the Queen when I spoke to heron the royal yacht afterwards. The Queen had a great sense of humour.

Leaving Belize on a BA Tristar, she sat next to the captain as he flew low over the coral reef. In the back of the plane her courtiers were standing talking and enjoying a drink. When the captain suddenly resumed full cruising height all the passengers were thrown in a heap to the back of the aircraft.

It was in upper Saskatchuwen that the Queen was suddenly concerned by the great storm of 1987, anxiously asking me to find out how many trees has been lost in the royal parks. She never minded a joke on herself. When a colleague of mine, Keith Graves, was introduced to her as, “the man from the BBC” she replied, “I usually watch ITN” to which Keith replied, “I didn’t come here to be insulted”. The Queen was the first to join in the laughter.

Her Majesty would probably be the first to veto the idea but there is a very strong case that she should be remembered by history as “Elizabeth The Great”.

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