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Posts Tagged ‘Queen Elizabeth’

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.

There’s a President sitting at the corner table…

In journalism, politics, US on February 24, 2012 at 12:40 am
President Bill Clinton 2007

Image via Wikipedia

If you live, as I do, near the suburban New York town of Chappaqua, and if you like the local French bistro, Jardin du Roi, the odds are good you will see former U.S. President Bill Clinton there.

It’s a little like seeing a UFO or a unicorn, something you’ve heard about for years but thought…nah…not in my lifetime.

On our last visit, a few weeks ago, he was sitting at the corner table of this quiet, unpretentious bistro, run by a mid-life career changer named Joe, with two delicious blondes, women somewhere near his age. Knowing the deal, I asked my husband — who spent eight years in the White House Press Corps as a New York Times photographer, and who has met Clinton in that capacity — where’s his security detail?

Are there Secret Service agents who look like models?

It’s the second time we’ve seen him there. The first was decidedly odd, as he stood in the very narrow doorway to the restaurant — a large, bulky agent standing visibly a few feet away that time — and held forth to a rapt audience for a long time. His zeal for conversation was legendary when he was in office, but you might expect that of a politician who, in some measure, is always campaigning.

In private life, not so much.

It is a strange, if interesting, moment when you encounter someone so iconic in the flesh. After seeing thousands of images for decades, there they are!

I followed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip around Canada for two weeks on their 1984 Royal Tour, and the cognitive dissonance was even greater. As a Canadian, I grew up with her image on our coins and stamps and, suddenly, right in front of me, there she was.

Not only was she a living, breathing woman, she was surrounded by an eddying sea of equerries and ladies-in-waiting. Not to mention her security detail, which included a devastatingly handsome Glaswegian in tweed and her bodyguard, a quiet, small man people referred to only as The Detective.

We watched an excellent two-part documentary on Clinton this week, on PBS show, The American Experience; if you ever wanted to know more about this man, or how American politics shape a President once he’s in office, I highly recommend it.

I'm Just Missing Her — Queen Elizabeth Lands In New York Today: How We Met And How It Went

In world on July 6, 2010 at 5:32 am
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 21:  Former crew m...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

She arrives in New York City for one day.

We met in the 1980s when she did a tour of Canada. I keep the invitation to drinks aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia framed in my kitchen as an impossibly elegant reminder — “The Master Of The Household Is Commanded By Her Majesty to Invite…”

We were instructed to wear a “lounge suit” and had absolutely no idea what that meant. I wore something dressy and enjoyed the stiffest gins and tonics (not sure of that plural) ever, served by ggggorgeous male equerries, aka royal servants. Such a life!

The press corps, which was huge and international, was formed into small artificial semi-circles, into which HRH was gently steered for our introductions.

I’d written some pretty provocative stuff for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily, about her visit and had just spent two grueling weeks of 14-hour days chronicling her every move, gesture and garment. (We were actually issued official clothing descripitions to use, like “eau de nil” [a pale celery green] which would have meant nothing to our readers.)

So, when I met her, she frostily barely acknowledged me — after a warm hello to the Brits she knew — “It’s a pity we haven’t had time to read the newspapers.”

Ba-boom! Talk about dissed. We all knew that of anything the Globe, with my front-page stories, would have been top of the list she was reading.

Spending time around the Queen is like entering a very strange world, especially for a Canadian or anyone living in a Commonwealth country where her face and name are on the coins and were, for years, on the stamps. It’s a little as though George Washington or Hamilton suddenly came to life and was standing right in front of you. And you had to report on him — reverence doesn’t work well on deadline.

The one cardinal rule — you never speak to her first and you never touch her. Which can be very confusing when she is friendly and charming to hordes of strangers who know no such boundaries.

A man accompanies her, unobtrusively, her bodyguard. I met him at the farewell party after our tour and had no idea he had even existed — a small, quiet un-noticeable sort of guy, yet a man who had taken a bullet to the chest while saving the life of Princess Anne.

It was an extraordinary experience to spend so much time around royalty. Her jewels are gob-smackingly large. She is surrounded, as royalty always has been, by a retinue.

My favorite detail, ever? I peeked into the back of the car she had been brought to an event in and saw a suitcase with a large red cardboard tag. It read simply: The Queen.

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