Saturday, 18 September 2021

Unforgettable memories of meeting Her Majesty

PEOPLE who have met the Queen say it is not only an honour but a memorable experience.

PEOPLE who have met the Queen say it is not only an honour but a memorable experience.

That was certainly the case for Elizabeth Hodgkin, who was Mayor of Henley when Her Majesty visited the town as part of her diamond jubilee celebration tour in 2012.

Mrs Hodgkin, of Nicholas Road, Henley, was asked to greet the Queen as she and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a garden party at Henley Business School for more than 3,000 people from Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

She says: “I was fortunate that I was asked to meet the Queen. We’d just got back from holiday and I had this urgent message. It was only me, it wasn’t my husband Richard, so he had to stand outside and wait!

“What struck me most about her was her very sparkly eyes and lovely skin. I felt honoured to be there and it was a great day. That and the Olympics were a real highlight of the year.”

Mrs Hodgkin recalls a humorous moment when the Queen apologised for causing traffic jams in the town with her visit.

“I said ‘it’s really not your fault’,” she laughs. “The Duke of Edinburgh saw my mayoral chain and said ‘that’s a very nice badge!’”

Tim Stevenson, the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, who helped organise the celebration, says: “It was a great occasion.

“We ended up inviting 3,500 people by public ballot as we wanted a good cross-section.”

The royal visitors arrived at Greenlands on board the steam boat Alaska and then watched a river pageant called Time and the Thames featuring a wide range of boats.

Mr Stevenson says: “It was a very special and memorable occasion, particularly because it was one of those English summers when it rained a lot.

“On the day itself the river dropped to an appropriate level and the sun came out.

“Hundreds of photographs were taken, particularly of the Queen, and in every one she looks as if she’s having a good time with a big smile on her face.

“You took away very special memories from it. The Queen asked me some questions about the foreign military that were there and I have to say I don’t think I gave her a very good answer.

“She wanted to know exactly where they came from. I wasn’t able to give her that answer and I think she saw straight through me!”

Actor Simon Williams, who lives near Nettlebed, helped narrate for the river pageant. He says: “It was just the most perfect day and it was very well put together. It was a great success. Henley is a royalist town, we love the Queen and we love royalty.”

The Upstairs and Downstairs star jumped at the chance to take part in the celebration.

“Of course I said yes,” he says. “It was well scripted and beautifully stage managed.”

He didn’t get the chance to meet the Queen on that day but has had the honour at other garden parties and opening nights.

“She’s just a spectacular person to meet,” he says. “It’s always a struggle meeting very famous people and when the very famous person is the Queen of your country it’s quite intimidating.

“A conversation about horses is always very popular — her face lights up.

“She’s very easy company. You look into her eyes and she’s genuinely interested in people and what they do — she’s a great Queen.”

In April 1986, the Queen opened the new Henley Royal Regatta headquarters.

Richard Goddard, who was then secretary of the regatta, says: “Of course it was an enormously exciting occasion and one that naturally involved a great deal of planning.

“It had come after a number of years of the headquarters being built. It was the finale of quite a lengthy period of activity — way over the normal work of the regatta. Everyone was excited but also tense to make sure everything ran smoothly.”

Mr Goddard was introduced to the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh along with then chairman Peter Coni and the committee of management.

Her Majesty unveiled a plaque before being introduced to some of the regatta stewards by Mr Coni, who spotted a familiar face in the shape of Gerald Ellison.

Mr Goddard recalls: “He said ‘I believe you know this gentleman’ and was pointing to someone and the Queen said, ‘Ah, Gerald, I didn’t recognise you without the dog collar’ and it was the bishop of London!”

The royal guests were shown the new committee room and the Duke, in his typical no-nonsense fashion, asked about the windows at the top of the two-storey room.

Mr Goddard says: “He looked up at the front to some windows and said, ‘How the hell do you get up there to open those?’

“The chairman replied, ‘It’s a question we have been asking the architect for the last six months, sir!’”

The couple then took a trip on the Thames with the Queen’s Watermen, among whom was Tony Hobbs, chairman of Hobbs of Henley, before returning to the new building.

Mr Goddard said: “We were told if the Queen was enjoying herself she would stay longer than the planned departure time and she did stay a good deal longer.

“We gave her a gift of a painting by Donald Hamilton Fraser. The private secretary, in his letter afterwards, said that the Queen had borne the painting away with glee to her private residence at Windsor.”

Mr Goddard, who lives in Ancastle Green and served as secretary for 31 years before retiring in 2006, says the visit was a memorable occasion and one of the highlights of his tenure.

“For a monarch to reach that age and still be active and totally in command of the situation is something we need to be proud of and that we need to mark,” he adds.

Mr Hobbs transported the Queen twice along the Thames in his role as a Waterman.

The first time was for the regatta HQ opening and then again in 1998 when she opened the River and Rowing Museum in Mill Meadows.

He picked up her up from Phyllis Court Club in Windrush, the Environment Agency’s chief navigation officer’s vessel.

Mr Hobbs says: “The river was in flood and there wasn’t a lot of room coming through Henley Bridge.

“It was a great experience for me to do a royal duty in my home town.”

Four years later Mr Hobbs had the honour of meeting the Queen after being invited to Buckingham Palace with other serving and retired  watermen.

He says: “She spoke to everybody in some depth. She remembered that day when I said to her ‘we carried you to the River and Rowing Museum a few years ago through Henley Bridge’ and she said ‘only just!’ She remembered the river was in flood.”

Lord Camoys, who lives at Stonor Park, used to see the Queen regularly when he served the royal household as Lord in Waiting from 1992 to 1998 and then as Lord Chamberlain from 1998 to 2000.

He says: “She was the most impressive person I’ve ever worked for and I’ve worked for a lot of very senior people. She’s an amazing lady, as the newspapers know so well.

“I think it’s very important that we should show great gratitude for all she’s done for the country and I think that’s a very pleasant thing to do.”

As Lord in Waiting, he represented Her Majesty at functions, assisted her on state visits and looked after foreign heads of state visiting England, including Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa, when he visited in the mid-Nineties.

He described Mr Mandela as “quite extraordinary” adding: “He was a very inspirational man and not in the least bit bitter about being in prison for 27 years. He treated everybody the same. He had a very gentle sense of humour.”

As Lord Chamberlain, he was head of the household with the four most senior people reporting to him and the Queen — the private secretary, privy purse, the Lord Chamberlain’s office and the Royal Collection.

“It was a huge privilege,” says Lord Camoys. “One tried to do one’s very best and tried to be as helpful as  possible.”

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