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.