Travelling with Her Majesty…almost!
There’s a chance that what I’m about to say may make me sound like some sort of Royal groupie. This isn’t intended but here goes: when you spend the time I do hanging around Buckingham Palace (see what I mean!)…as a Tour Manager (sounds better?), you get to know the signs of ‘Royal on the move’. Headlights on a convoy, police outriders, a whistle or two—all signs of something happening. When out and about, another tell-tale sign can be people in their ‘best bib and tucker’ in anticipation of an imminent scheduled visit. I could recount a visit to the National Portrait Gallery a few years ago, just an impromptu visit I’d decided on on the way to somewhere else, when on the doorstep I was politely asked to just ‘wait for a moment’…and next thing the Queen exits accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband. So THAT was why a familiar-looking limo was parked outside…
On a recent occasion, arriving at London’s Eurostar Terminal for a train to Paris, the signs were there that something rather notable was due to happen in the near future. Was it the extra police van or two parked alongside the terminal building? Was it the staff looking smarter than normal (not that they ever look untidy)? Was it a preponderance of manager-looking types with ID badges and smart suits fussing around? Or even the occasional camera crew checking-in with gear tucked under their arm? Yes, something was in the offing. And that something? The imminent arrival of HM the Queen (plus entourage) for her journey to Paris at the start of a full State Visit to France.
TM on Her Majesty’s service?
No need to bother with flying these days; easy enough, like us all, to roll up at St Pancras and let the train take the Royal strain. A mere 2hrs 20mins after departure, and a trip under the English Channel (I’ll refer to it so given it was a Royal passage!) and HM can set foot on French soil and be at her first port of call whilst the tea is still brewing in the Royal teapot.
And so it was to be. Of course, no one is going to announce which Eurostar service was to be the designated Royal one. As I arrived, and with a certain buzz in the air, there was a good chance it could have been mine. Would there be a red carpet on the platform? Would there be any other signs that the 10:25 St. Pancras to Gare du Nord was to be the Royal train? Clearly, as I boarded, not. And it wasn’t. She must have heard I was on board and chosen to travel a little later!
On arrival into Gare du Nord, more signs that an historic moment was close at hand: Press starting to throng the station concourse, uniformed and plain-clothed police conspicuous in their presence; and the players in the approaching ‘Welcome’ practising their parts.
A Royal near-miss, clearly, I concluded with an impish sense of humour before disappearing into the Metro system to continue the day.
And so matters were to continue over the days ahead.
Affairs of State and flags abroad
If a State Visit is a way in which two countries can cement and celebrate their relationship, France had chosen to accord HM the invitation of a State Visit at this moment and purposely to coincide with the commemorations of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. In the world of diplomacy and politics, there was surely much significance in this Visit at this time. Certainly Britain and France are next door neighbours; have centuries of intertwined history and in HM the Queen, someone who had lived through the War years and the events of D-Day.
So, as I was in one area of the capital preparing for an incoming group the following day, the Queen was on her way from Gare du Nord to the Arc de Triomphe for the Official Welcome by the President of France, Francois Hollande; Royal Standard fluttering on limousine.
On the eve of the D-Day 70 commemorations, two Heads of State greeted each other in front of the Arc, amidst full State pomp, and laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior before a full procession down the length of the Champs Elysees.
The flags were out in Paris with ceremonials upon ceremonials being the narrative of those few days in France. Beneath the Arc de Triomphe, the mother of all Tricolours was flying in the breeze —always a sight to see on the occasions ita flies. And, for a Brit abroad in Paris, it felt slightly surreal to see Union Flags in preponderance around the City, side by side with the Tricolour.
Needless to say, my invitation to the Royal Garden Party (yes, how British) at the British Embassy had failed to materialise, but with the French media keenly covering the visit I, as a Brit abroad in a hotel room with coloured pens readying for the following morning of airport arrivals, didn’t feel entirely left out.
The national and international events of the D-Day commemorations in Normandy would dominate the news coverage across the 6th of June.
Another near miss
The following day, as we enjoyed our sightseeing of Paris with Amale, our Paris Guide, it was another ‘nearly’ moment with HM. In honour of the visit, the Marché aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cite was to be renamed ‘Marché aux Fleurs – Reine Elizabeth II’. Roads closed, then reopened as we got close. A stage clearly only just vacated and the signs of a Royal Visit just completed, there before us, the new street sign to mark the Marché, for all to see and have a photo for the album. Clearly, she’d heard I was on my way…again!!
From Paris to Normandy in the wake of the international ceremonies of the 6th June, we were walking in the footsteps of HM (and others) once more. At St. Laurent American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach, we were walking where, days earlier, the French-US commemorations had taken place; where two Presidents, Hollande of France and Obama of the US had led the homage to those now few and aged who 70 years previously had been making landfall in the worst of all conditions; to their endeavour and in gratitude.
Joining the party!
As our trip continued, it was clear that HM really wanted to be part of it. Dateline London, a certain Saturday in June and the Mall was decked out ready for a day of great State Ceremonial: ‘Trooping the Colour’—the annual Birthday Parade for the Queen. Troops in ceremonial dress lining the route from Palace to Horseguards Parade; flags flying and the crowds lining the route. Military Bands, Troops readying to Parade in front of the Queen; the advance party of Royals in open topped carriages processing ahead of HM (Prince Harry, HRH Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate, etc.); cheers from the crowds…before the Monarch’s Procession—detachments of the mounted regiments, the Band of the Household Cavalry and then at last the Royal Carriage.
Having spent the week missing each other every step of the way this was the moment when, finally, Her Majesty was part of our trip. (Of course, she was too polite to be able to say that was the purpose of the Parade, but we knew…!)
Have you enjoyed any “royal moments” while traveling? Share your story in the comments below!
Chris Relton is an ACIS tour manager from the UK. His passion for travel has taken him through Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand, the Far East, North America and Africa.
One thought on “Travelling with Her Majesty…almost!”
Like, Chris, I’ve enjoyed a couple of “Royal Moments” as well, while traveling overseas. My first run-in with the Royals was during a visit to London in 1994. My friend and I were meeting in London to spend a week exploring that fabulous city. From there, we were to head out to “Shakespeare Country” for a few days to walk in Shakespeare’s steps, before heading on to The Netherlands, where I was going to stay with her for a few weeks.
I had heard about the annual Royal event, The Trooping of the Colours, and we decided to time our visit to London to coincide with this very British ceremony. The Trooping of the Colours is the official celebration of the Queen’s birthday and takes place every year on the second Saturday in June.
It was a bright and sunny morning in June as we made our way to the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. We wanted to be sure that we got there in plenty of time, (two hours in advance of the 10:30a.m. start time!) so that we could get front-row seats to this fabulous spectacle. I guess in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention here that I am a long-time Anglophile, but I digress.
As we stood there on the curb, waiting for the event to begin, we had the good fortune to be right in front of Clarence House, the home of the “Queen Mum”, Queen Elizabeth’s aging mother. As the time began to drag on, we watched as the British constables started to line up along the Mall as well. I became acutely aware that the “Bobby” in front of me kept casting furtive glances around the crowd as if he were looking for someone in particular. I engaged the man in conversation, only to find out that an alert had been issued for a possible IRA member in the crowd, which explained his darting eyes and intent stares. Of course, it was 1994, and the IRA was still very much a concern to the British at this time.
From our vantage point on the corner of the Mall and the alley that led into Clarence House, we were pleasantly surprised when a sleek, black limousine arrived at our location and drove up to the house to fetch the Queen Mother for the ceremony. Soon, we got our first glimpse of the Queen Mum. Smiling from inside the limo as she was whisked away to the Palace, her engaging smile and solid wave to the crowd, made me a fan of the Royal Family for life. At that time, she was already in her 90’s, but you would never have known it from the enthusiasm she showed for us that morning. (To this day, my preferred place to watch The Trooping is in front of Clarence House.)
After awhile, we began to hear the far-off , haunting skirling of the bagpipes and the deep booming drums from the bands of the Queen’s Royal Guards.. All of the Queen’s military regiments are represented on this day, as they make their way from Buckingham Palace down to St. James Park for the official presentation of the each regiment’s colours by the Queen. (Unfortunately, this is a ticketed event, reserved for members of the British aristocracy and friends.) Down the Mall they came, the bands dressed in their traditional tartan plaids each representing one of the Queen’s regimental guards. It was British pageantry at its best. There was even the Irish Guards’ mascot in attendance that day, an Irish wolfhound, sporting the regimental tartan coat of plaid, walking proudly in front of his unit.
The Queen’s Royal Guards, marched down the Mall all in a row, some on horseback, and others in traditional British lines. Our hearts began to beat in time with the huge, booming, bass drums, and we knew that soon we would be rewarded with the appearance of the Royal Family.
Sure enough, within minutes, the Royal carriages began to roll down the Mall. First, the more junior members of the Royal Family, then, the now-familiar face of the Queen Mother, and finally, the Queen’s open carriage. I have to say that on that occasion, I was a bit disappointed in Her Majesty’s choice of clothing for the event. Her ensemble of bright yellow hat, navy cape, and light blue skirt was not exactly what I envisioned the Queen of England to be wearing for her birthday celebration. I guess I was expecting one of the all-matching pastel outfits I had grown used to seeing her wear.
Right behind the Queen came two men in black fur busbees, their faces almost obscured by the tall, gleaming fur hats on their heads. The brilliant red uniforms contrasted nicely with the shining coats of the magnificent horses each rode. It wasn’t until after the ceremony that we were told that those two men were the Royal father and son, Prince Phillip and Prince Charles, riding a suitable distance behind their monarch. We were disappointed that we didn’t get to see the fabled Princess Diana or the young princes, William and Harry, but we remembered the reason: in 1994, the Royal couple was in the throes of a nasty divorce, and Diana was purposely not included in the Queen’s birthday celebration.
At the conclusion of our fabulous morning of Royal-watching, my friend and I turned to go, when a British man standing near us, informed us that if we waited a bit, we could see the whole event again, this time in reverse. We were told that following the ceremony in St. James Park, the Royals would make their way via the Mall back to Buckingham Palace for an appearance on the balcony. This would be followed by a private lunch at the palace, and, finally, the morning would be capped off with a British RAF fly-over and cannons fired to herald the monarch’s big day. Sure enough, later, while on our way to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, we saw the colored contrails of the planes and heard the thundering cannon fire in the distance.
Over the years, I have witnessed several Trooping of the Colours ceremonies, each one a bit different than the last. This past June, while I was in London with a group of adults, we had the opportunity to see Prince William and his lovely wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, along with the ever-present Camilla, Prince Harry, and even little Prince George, who made his his first-ever balcony appearance at the Trooping of the Colours. Later, while looking at videos of the big day, seeing Prince George in his father’s arms, shyly waving to the crowds below, I couldn’t help but think of Princess Diana, and how much she would have loved to have been able to hold her grandson.
I must confess, that each time I see this ceremony it is a thrilling treat to be that close to royalty and British history in the making. As much as I enjoy seeing the different members of the Royal Family take their place in line at this event, I think it is my first Trooping of the Colours Ceremony all those years ago that I remember the most, because, for me, it was my first-ever glimpse of that storied group of people, the Royal Family of England.
Now, when I take a group to London, I still try to schedule our time there during the second week of June, so my group members can experience the fun and fanfare of this very British event. For me, this ceremony is better than the Changing of the Guard, as spectators can get a front-row seat to the pomp and circumstance of Royal England. Yes, I am an unabashed Royal-watcher who will read anything about the Royal Family, check news reports hourly for royal birth announcements, get up at unreasonable hours of the night to see a Royal Wedding, and grieve with them when a member of the Royal Family passes. Yes, I am that girl.
So, the next time you happen to be in London on the second Saturday in June, find yourself a comfy piece of real estate on the Royal Mall and get set to watch a spectacle only the British can provide. And, yes, I’ll be the one at the corner of Clarence House and the Mall waving my Union Jack and straining to see who’s in the next Royal carriage coming down the boulevard. Just let me know, and I’ll save you a seat….