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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The day I (almost) met the Queen

Today, on the day Elizabeth II overtakes her ancestor Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, llanblogger's Phil Robinson recalls the time he (almost) met her.

During nearly 50 years in local journalism I’ve covered more than my share of royal visits and every one of them has been quite a personal, as well as professional, thrill.

One of these visits happened when Her Majesty came to Cheshire Oaks, near Ellesmere Port, back in the mid-1990s.

At the time I was editor of the local paper and was deeply involved in planning our coverage of this momentous occasion.
We put everything together like a military operation over the course of a week or so beforehand but when the big day finally arrived I found myself at a bit of a loose end waiting at the office for our team or reporters and photographers to return with the hot story.

Actually, it was the first time I’d been out of the “front line” for such as a visit and was feeling more than a little frustrated that my colleagues were out having all the fun while I twiddled my thumbs back at base.
So, using the prerogative of rank, I decided to nip along to the shopping centre and see if I could grab a slice of the action for myself.

When I arrived on the scene it was about half an hour into the visit and the entrance to the shopping parade through which the Queen and her entourage had arrived was still buzzing with activity.
More frustratingly it was also cordoned off by police officers and I knew there was no way I was going to get through without an official pass.

These are issued days before any royal visit and, although I’d ensured that my reporters and snappers assigned to the job all had them safely pinned to their jackets, I was without one. I didn’t need one because I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the event.
Undaunted, I scurried around to another of the entrances to the shopping parade and found it deserted and unpoliced.

It was vaguely at the back of my mind that if I continued through there I might find myself being arrested or shot but, what the hell, I pressed on with my mission to perhaps get a close-up look at Her Maj.
However, it occurred to me that I was much too late for that as there was not another soul in sight.

As I made my way gingerly along the line of shops – conspicuously without a pass – I eventually reached the entrance to a well-known store selling tea and coffee.
Just at that moment a rather well dressed elderly lady walked out of the doorway and turned in my direction.

For a split second I wondered why a pensioner had wandered into the middle of a royal visit.
Then I realised I was just a couple of feet away from Elizabeth II herself.

Should I turn smartly around and head the other way?
Should I dive into the nearest bushes?

Should I brazen it out and walk right up to her and say something?
Damn it, this was the one and only chance I’d ever have in my lifetime of speaking to my sovereign.

So I took the latter option and walked towards her and when I came face to face with her I said cheerfully: “Good afternoon, Your Majesty. Welcome to Ellesmere Port!”
Completely unmoved, she looked directly into my eyes and then down onto my jacket lapel where the absence of an official pass was glaringly obvious.

She completely ignored my hearty greeting and walked straight past me followed by her retinue who were by this time also out of the shop which they had been visiting with her.
I can’t say I blame her for the snub. As far as she could see I was just some idiot who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.   

I was stunned and a little hurt by my treatment but at least I can say I once spoke to the Queen – even if she didn’t reply.    

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