After almost four years of studying all the kings and queens of England from Alfred the Great to Elizabeth II, I have never actually seen the latter (i.e. “the” Queen). Yesterday, however, she was visiting Chelmsford (where I work and reside), providing something of a perfect opportunity. But would I manage it?
(Not giving anything away, but I’m not in this video!)
The Queen and Prince Philip were in Chelmsford for a service at the Cathedral to celebrate the Diocese’s 100th birthday. This basically means a region that falls under the care/control of a bishop, in this case the Bishop of Chelmsford. As it transpires, the Chelmsford Diocese is something of a behemoth, containing not just all of Essex but also five London boroughs, making it the second largest in the country. It also means that technically the 2012 Olympics largely took place in the Diocese of Chelmsford!
Given all the glorious work we had done on her predecessors, you might have expected the Queen to pay a visit to the glistening towers of Rex Factor HQ whilst she was here. Perhaps she is still smarting from being deemed too current to be considered for the Rex Factor herself. Whatever the reason, personal invitations were not forthcoming so any glimpse of the royal ones would require a certain amount of planning.
The most reliable way of seeing the Queen on a royal visit is to turn up early, nab yourself a good spot and wait patiently for the car to appear. As it happened, by virtue of turning up to work in the morning, this option was very much on the table, as when I walked past the Cathedral there was hardly anyone there save a man giving out flags. So I could have just stayed there, but there was that whole work thing to be doing, so I didn’t.
The second option for seeing the Queen on a royal visit is to happen to be in the area at the time and hope that you can just pop out at the right moment and get the perfect view with the minimum planning or effort. The problem with this is that details for royal visits do not exactly overflow from the cup of enlightenment (an advanced itinerary is a security risk) so this is not an exact science.
Thankfully, there were live updates from local news sites to let me know that nothing was really going to happen until mid-morning (glad I hadn’t decided to wait it out first thing in the morning). I was surprised to find that the car arrival part of the journey was (at least for the arrival) all for show, as the Queen came into Chelmsford by helicopter (sensibly avoiding the A12) before getting into the car for the ceremonial arrival. Given that the Chelmsford Diocese hosted the 2012 Olympics, it might have been more fitting for her to have reprised her entrance from the Games and jumped out of the helicopter, but I suppose Cathedral spires do represent something of a hazard in that respect.
Anyway, the Queen and Prince Philip drove right past me but unfortunately I wasn’t looking at the time. It is worth noting, if intending to make a last minute arrival onto such a scene, that the local news live updates might not be quite as live or indeed updated as such intentions would require. Consequently, when I did pop out for a perfectly timed view I was greeted instead by the always ominous sign of everybody walking away from where I would have thought the action should have been. Missed her.
Still, just as what goes up must come down, so what goes into a Cathedral for a service to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the diocese must come out of a Cathedral for a service to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the diocese. In other words, I’d catch her on the way out. This plan was fool-proof, except for all the reasons that the first one wasn’t fool-proof: not knowing when she would be re-emerging; not knowing where she would be re-emerging, and not knowing how she’d be leaving. And, indeed, when I popped out at lunch time I was told that I’d just missed her again, thus confirming the non-fool-proofness of the plan.
Undeterred, however, I noticed that there still seemed to be a lot of people gathered with phones held aloft looking distinctly like they were taking (or about to be taking) photographs. Going closer, I found that the royal car and its escort were still in situ round the back of the Cathedral down the road, so she clearly had not yet left. So, like the rest of the herd, I waited. After a few minutes, though, I engaged my deductive skills in a manner that would have given Sherlock Holmes a run for his money – given that all the cars were facing in the opposite direction from where we were standing, it was highly unlikely that they would drive past us, and so we would almost certainly see absolutely nothing until suddenly the car started to creep away and we realised that we were in the wrong spot.
Being pretty sure of my reasoning, I decided to break with all British queuing instincts, leave what now felt like my post and try to get a better spot (i.e. a spot that the Queen would go past). There was definitely too much of a crowd to just carry on down the road to get a better view but thankfully I was able to employ a bit of local knowledge, go down a couple of lesser used streets and emerged down the road, in decent space and with a good chance of getting a view.
And there she is! Just at the back…behind the flashing lights…getting into the car… Okay, another error for the perfect viewing was not taking my proper camera with a zoom lens, but fear not, the car is clearly going to have to drive past me, so all I would have to do is hold my ground, have the camera ready to go and take an award winning photograph to remember through the ages. Come on, Your Majesty, come to the camera…
And she’s on her way, now, the car just driving past the cosmetic surgery building on the right (it is Essex, after all) and gradually coming into view…
And there we have it! A perfectly focused photograph of the hands of the person in front of me. You can see the Queen and Prince Philip in the car (always looking forwards and to the side, so no grinning to the person just outside the window), albeit not particularly in focus. Thankfully, something I always am conscious of now is to watch the event with my eyes rather than through the camera, so I saw the Queen in perfect focus even if the camera was not so fortunate!
So with a large degree of haphazard, last-minute, only semi-logical planning (clearly I’ve been spending too much time with Ali!) I did eventually manage to see the Queen. It’s odd to think that someone I have “reviewed” and studied was right there in front of me, and indeed someone in that long line from Alfred the Great. It is also strange to think of how many generations will have seen a similar sight over the centuries with previous monarchs processing through the streets, though I dare say this was a rather more genteel affair than would have been undertaken by Henry VIII or Charles II! But ultimately, this must surely go down as an opportunity missed – if the Queen had spurned the royal car and instead taken to a horse and ridden out of town with her sword held aloft that surely would have been a guaranteed Rex Factor!