Queen Elizabeth

For many people, a face-to-face encounter with the queen was a source of wonder.

World News

John Swanston clearly remembers when he met Queen Elizabeth II, even though it was more than 60 years ago, when he was a schoolboy.

His father, a doctor from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, had sent him to a boarding school outside Edinburgh and the queen was on the hunt for a suitable school for her young son, Charles. Because he had recently won a special prize for outdoor skills, Swanston was selected as the only boy in the school to meet her.

Now 83, he was among the crowd who gathered at Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday after the news of the queen’s death. He said that, while she had spoken to him that June day in 1958, he had virtually no memory of what she said: “I was overwhelmed.”

Many thousands of ordinary citizens shook hands with the queen over the decades, and his reaction is a common one.

One possible reason is that the choreography of a royal encounter was designed to provoke awe. The queen’s visits were usually telegraphed long in advance. Preparations were meticulous. Gardens were tidied, rooms swept and people often wore their best clothes.

Swanston said his parents had driven up from Thirsk specifically for the meeting and took him out to lunch at a nearby hotel afterward.

For hundreds of years, and at least since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, being visible to Britain’s citizens has been an essential element of monarchy, as well as a subtle tool of power. In the past century, first radio, then television and now social media has dramatically increased the monarch’s reach, but a nearly endless string of ribbon-cuttings, library openings and other public appearances has remained a fundamental duty.

When Swanston’s meeting took place, Britain was grappling with the aftermath of World War II — postwar rationing had ended just a few years earlier — but he said that the meeting cemented his loyalty to the queen herself. He joined the army, became a doctor and, on Thursday, came to Buckingham Palace wearing the tie of the Royal Geographical Society, of which he is a fellow.

The country has changed dramatically since then, and has seen a decline in reverence toward monarchy. But personal sightings of the queen remain significant for many. Chris Schommer, 34, a tourist from Düsseldorf, Germany, who was among the crowd at Buckingham Palace on Thursday, said he saw the queen wave from her balcony during a ceremony in 2017.

“She was an amazing personality,” he said. “She held the country together.”

Hana Mosavie, 32, said she felt she had missed out by never seeing the queen in person. “I wish I had,” she said. “I was holding out hope.”

In Canada, Allan McMordie met the Queen a little more than 44 years ago, when he was a 21-year-old university student in Edmonton. He accompanied the royal family around the city as a volunteer with St. John’s Ambulance at the Commonwealth Games there. In those days, the queen and her family mingled with crowds much more often.

“I thought it was quite nice how the whole family was relaxed and just sauntered from their vehicles,” he said. The queen greeted him with a hello at each of the sites they visited.

“She’s smaller than you think, but just very nice and relaxed,” he said.

McMordie, whose family is originally from Scotland, said the encounter was a wonderful memory for him because he felt that Canada’s connection to the queen was important.

“I’ve always enjoyed the royal family and being part of a bigger family,” he said.

Jane Leckey, who is from Toronto, was 12 and living with her parents in Saudi Arabia for a year when the news came that the queen was coming to visit her school.

Everyone lined up along the red carpet outside the Riyadh International Community School, on their best behavior as the queen walked slowly down the carpet, smiling and waving. But Leckey, not knowing anything about protocol, held out a Canadian flag and asked the queen directly if she would sign it.

The queen stopped and said, in what Leckey remembers as a supremely gracious tone, “No, I’m terribly sorry. If I signed your flag, I’d have to sign everyone’s flag.”

“She was delightful,” Leckey said.

Leckey didn’t realize she had broken protocol until later, when her mother scolded her — while also leaving the impression she was somewhat proud. Her parents, with Scottish and English ancestry, were firm believers in the monarchy and saw the queen as an essential part of their heritage.

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