As it happens, she and I go way back. In fact, and not to boast, we have crossed paths several times, although she always seems not to recognize me. That’s good breeding for you. It would not do to get too familiar with a commoner, in my case more common than most.
Back in 1953, when I was 5 years old, I watched her coronation on the telly in England. The television set was of a primitive type — black and white, of course, and possibly steam-driven. It looked like a piece of alien furniture. In our innocence, we did not know yet that this alien invader would soon conquer the world to the detriment of civilization.
My old dad was working for the Reuters news agency in London, and I can only assume that my parents were not invited to the coronation due to some administrative error. The equerry probably forgot to order the third footman to inform the protocol officer at Buckingham Palace. My parents seemed to take the snub quite well.
I don’t remember much from my early time in London, but I do remember the queen being coronated. (I know, there’s no such word, but there is when you are 5.) We lived in a suburb called New Malden. Up the road was a bomb crater left courtesy of the Luftwaffe.
I remember one other thing. Dad called from his office one evening to say he was coming home. My older brother Jim got on the phone and said: “Daddy, will you bring the papers home?” Not wishing to be left out, I naturally said: “Daddy, I want some papers too.”
I was a budding artist and could hardly wait to get my crayons and draw a picture of New Malden being bombed by the Germans.
But to my surprise, Dad brought home another sort of paper, newspapers like the Daily Express and The Daily Mail.
This experience changed my life. I budded in a different direction and you poor readers now suffer the consequences.
My next encounter with the monarch was 10 years later. By then, we had gone to Brisbane, Australia, to live in the state of Queensland, no less. It was the custom for visiting royals to go to a local stadium for a spontaneous greeting from the city’s children, spontaneous meaning forced and compulsory.
Queen Elizabeth and Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, made one of their royal tours Down Under in 1963, my first year of high school. But it is hard to remember clearly whether I saw Her Majesty and His Philship or one of their many relatives. With the tropical sun beating down on us, the whole school was force-marched down to the stadium in a re-enactment of the Bataan Death March. Nothing like dehydration to warp the memory.
The next time I saw Her Majesty, I was living in London myself, another decade on. I happened to visit Westminster Abbey on the very day the queen was giving alms to needy subjects in an ancient ceremony marking Maundy Thursday. She whizzed by in her limousine, not even giving me time to yell, “Hey, Your High Highness, I’m needy too!”
I last saw the queen in 1977 on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee, marking the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne. I knew we had to stop meeting like this, because those terrible English tabloids would start talking. By then, I was working on the sports desk of The Times of London, the grand duchess of English newspapers.
We stood in Fleet Street, the heart of the newspaper business where once my old dad had worked and occupied many a bar stool, and saw the stately parade of the jubilee pass by. I had a little child on my shoulders — not my child but a child I was helping because she couldn’t see, thanks to all the English people in the front who had been eating fish and chips and lard sandwiches.
The queen’s gilded coach came by, not 10 feet away. Her Maj smiled and waved graciously, but not a hint of recognition was in her eyes when she saw me.
It must have been the kid grabbing my hair (hey, kid, I still want it back).
Yes, that must have been the reason.
Hip, hip, hooray anyway.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.