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Posts Tagged ‘New Brunswick’

What’s Queen Elizabeth really like? I spent two weeks with her

In behavior, culture, History, journalism, Media, news, women, work on June 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm
Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As millions of cheering loyal subjects (and the deeply curious) this weekend celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, some of you must wonder — what’s that life really like?

As Queen Elizabeth celebrates 60 years on the throne — and 1,000 boats are floating down the Thames today to celebrate —  here are my personal memories of an unforgettable two weeks spent chasing her.

In 1984, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip took a two-week tour of Canada, from New Brunswick to Ontario to Manitoba. I was 26, a brand-new reporter at The Globe and Mail, with six months’ daily newspaper experience.

This would be front-page news every day, and the paper has five daily editions, so I would have to meet multiple deadlines for my editors in Toronto — whether I was an hour ahead or behind in time zone. No pressure!

The Queen, as you would expect, travels with a large entourage of ladies-in-waiting and equerries. Not to mention a serious and determined contingent of security. In charge on that tour was a dapper Glaswegian, in a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches. He was tiny but ferocious, yet managed to keep a sense of humor as he tried to keep dozens of annoying reporters and photographers at bay. One day, as we all pressed forward behind the Queen on walkabout, he walked backward, his arms outstretched toward us.

“You need a whip and a chair!” I joked.

“I could use the whip,” he said. My. (I later bought him one and gave it to him as a going-away gift at our final party.)

The two weeks were an insane and exhausting blur of 14 to 16-hour days. It was also the first time the press corps — men and women of all ages from every outlet, from the CBC to Time -- was, at each event, literally penned into a very small space with cords around it.

This was also long before cellphones or the Internet and an era when the fastest possible laptop showed (!!) barely 4 sentences at a time, attached to a telephone handset with clips and took forever to download.

Not to mention trying to find a phone on deadline…I raced into a hotel lobby once and commandeered the phone in the news-stand. Another time I ran frantically to the nearest private home, banged on the door, begged for a table to write on and a phone from which to transmit, in the middle of which the man of the house (a judge) came home and wondered why a crazed blond stranger had taken over his phone line and kitchen table.

Or the house at which I banged on the door and promptly fell flat on my face as they opened it.

Good times!

Every day, the Queen’s staff gave us a little printed piece of paper with the exact words to describe her clothing; not “light green” but “eau de Nil.”

The greatest challenge of covering a Royal Tour? There is no news. Cutting ribbons. Smiling. Accepting bouquets.

So every reporter at home reading my stuff was inwardly sneering at how mundane it had to be while every one of us on the tour were desperate to find a scrap of information that no one else in the huge pack, all traveling on the same buses or planes, could access. (When the Queen’s aircraft takes off, yours must leave a few minutes behind….it’s called the “purple corridor.”)

So when I reported that a government minister touched her on the back and shoulder (you never touch Her Majesty!) it made front-page news in Britain and created a huge ruckus.

Then I wrote a later story about the oddness of being feet from a reigning sovereign whose face was on the stamps and currency I’d been using since birth — and how she is really just another human being. On that one, (having said [yes] that she had visible veins in her legs, i.e. she’s human, too), I got plenty of hate mail and calls.

One man suggested I be drawn and quartered.

In Toronto’s harbor, the press corps was invited to drinks aboard Britannia, then her yacht. I still have the engraved invitation, on thick white gold-edged card: “The Master of the Household invites…”

We were all nervous and excited. The equerries were drop-dead gorgeous in their uniforms and poured very strong G & Ts. Then we were all formed into little semi-circles into which the Queen was guided to say hello. When I was introduced, she looked past me and said “Pity we haven’t had time to read the newspapers.”

As if. She had been furious with some of my work and this was the most British diss of all. “Stories? What stories?”

Her jewelry was astonishing. Her tiara…oh, yeah, those diamonds are real!

Her detective, who I met only at the final party, had remained invisible. When we met, I’d had no idea he had, of course, been there the whole time. Short, quiet, modest, James Beaton had in March 1974 saved Princess Anne from a would-be kidnapper and taken a bullet to his body for her.

Good heavens! I’d never met a real hero before.

My favorite memory of all?

Starved for any scrap of color or detail my competitors couldn’t match, I peeked into the rear seat of the parked car in which Her Majesty had been driven to an event.

There sat a small suitcase with a very large red cardboard baggage tag.

In large black block type, it simply read: The Queen.

Hanging With The Royals: Welcome to Kate’s New Life!

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, History, journalism, life, love, Media, news, women on April 28, 2011 at 11:25 am
Kate and Wills

Image by JeanM1 via Flickr

Very few people will ever get close to royalty. I did.

On my kitchen wall is the thick white cardboard invitation, engraved in gold, from the Master of the Household, inviting me to drinks aboard the Britannia, then the Queen’s personal yacht.

I spent two exhausting, fun, disorienting weeks following Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip around New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba as they toured Canada. I was then a young reporter for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily newspaper of record, and being assigned to cover a Royal Tour was the most impossible of assignments.

It meant producing front-page copy every single day on tight deadlines about….nothing! What the Queen wore. Where she walked during their walkabouts. The ribbons she cut on a highway to open it officially.

We were actually handed a small slip of paper every morning with the words we were to use to describe the Queen’s outfit that day, like “eau de Nil” (water of the Nile)….not light green!

The press pack was enormous and, on that trip for the first time, literally penned into a small enclosed space whenever the Queen actually did something, to make sure we would not disturb the event.

It was the most wearying but cool two weeks of my life as a reporter. My glimpse beneath those ermine robes, as it were, included:

the “purple corridor”, the airspace one must leave behind the Royals’ jet after it takes off;

The Detective, the small, short, quiet, totally nondescript man in a cardigan I met at the final party who is the Queen’s personal bodyguard;

her sparkling, glittering OMG-they’re-real jewels, from her baby-fist-sized emerald pin to her tiara;

the ladies-in-waiting and equerries;

the little semi-circles we were all formed into — like mini artificial harbors — when we were finally introduced to her at the Britannia reception.

So….what’s she like?

Frosty as hell to me, my dears. I’d written a few front page stories about her during the tour that she didn’t care for.

“It’s a pity we haven’t had time to read the papers,” she told me.

Right. Like a President or Prime Minister, she is presented daily with coverage, and the Globe’s would have been top of the pile.

The strangest part of my time around the Royal Family was finally realizing, which you can only see close up, how stage-managed their lives are.

While they’re warm and friendly when they choose, they are utterly unlike the rest of us, even the wealthiest and most poweful.

The Royal Family owe allegiance to no one: no boss, no political party, no donors, no fund-raisers or investors. They have courtiers and castles. The live in a protected, gilded, scrutinized bubble.

One afternoon, desperate for any scrap or detail my many competitors on the tour might not find, I peered into the car that was being used to transport the couple.

A small suitcase sat in the back seat with a large bright red paper tag attached that no one else could possibly claim.

The Queen.

One day, it will be Kate’s.

Zut Alors! How A Can Of Shaving Cream Made Me Homesick

In culture, History on April 25, 2010 at 12:41 am

It hits you without warning. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub about to shave my legs when I realize the new can of shaving cream is eerily familiar.

The label — although I bought it here in downstate New York — is in French and English.

{{fr|Photo des Plaines d'Abraham de la Ville d...

The Plains of Abraham. Image via Wikipedia

Quel big deal, vous dites? Non, c’est super!

One thing I really miss about Canada, where I was born and raised, is seeing French on everything you buy even if your first language is English. A bored little kid, even in Edmonton or Iqaluit, ends up reading it on the back of the cereal box, learning by default.  You just end up knowing weird words like “rabais” (discount) or, if you’ve ever lived in Quebec, “depanneur” (which literally means someone who helps you out; “etre en panne” is when your car breaks down) which is — natch — a corner or convenience store.

The U.S. has such a thing about bilingualism. Some people froth at the mouth with indignation when a voicemail prompt says to hit another number if you want to continue in Spanish.

The French got their collective butts whipped on the Plains of Abraham on Sept. 13, 1759 when Wolfe defeated Montcalm; Montreal succumbed soon after that and Canada became English-dominated. The Quebec license plates, forever middle finger raised in reply to les maudits anglais, say “Je Me Souviens” — “I Remember.”

But Canada remains officially bilingual, which really pisses people off in places like British Columbia (its name might be a clue), as opposed to Manitoba or New Brunswick which still have some significant pockets of French-speakers. English speaking Canadians know they’re Anglophones, Anglos, and those who speak neither English or French allophones.

I miss seeing two languages everywhere, a reminder that life — certainly in a culturally as well as fiscally intertwined global economy — can never be seen through the lens of one tongue and one point of view.

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