It was back in 2011 and I was working at the National Library of Australia – it had a great view of the lake and collected the best stuff.
Word had got around that the Queen would float by later that morning en route to somewhere important. If we went down to the lakeshore, we might catch a glimpse.
I’m not so much a monarchist as I am a collector of all things tacky, so the notion of seeing the person I’d only ever seen in snowdomes, on mugs, and tins of Scottish shortbread, in the flesh was too tempting.
We trekked down to the lakefront, about three hours before she was scheduled to even think about appearing. She was probably still in Tasmania, but I thought it best not to be late in royal company. We waited, and waited, and waited some more.
About four hours later this little boat putt-putted past us. I could just see a vision in mauve, although it was probably puce I was so far away, surrounded by blokes in hats. One of whom seemed to belong to her.
We all cheered, waved, stuck our faces behind our phones to catch the split-second moment, and then trekked back to work.
“I saw the Queen today,” I told everyone in hearing distance and Queensland. “So did we,” one of my colleagues responded, “I couldn’t believe how close I got to her – she even shook my hand.”
I could feel a sulk developing. Here was I, collector of royal memorabilia probably more extensive than the HM could find in HP (Her Palace), yet I had to be satisfied with just gazing at her from afar – a very far.
Earlier this week, I was reminded of the visit whilst talking to a curator from the National Capital Authority (NCA) about its new exhibition The Queen and Me. The NCA had invited locals to share their memories of one of the times the Queen visited between 1954 and 2011. One of the contributors to the exhibition described the Queen as “a bit wobbly” when she stood near her daughter, who had given the monarch a bunch of flowers.
A bit wobbly, I thought, surely that’s not regal. Perhaps her lunchtime gin and Dubonnet was a little strong. Just glad she wasn’t wobbly whilst near the lake back in 2011 – that would have made a splash on the nightly news.
It’s not that I held a grudge for losing four hours of my life standing in the belting sun waiting for someone I’d never met nor was likely to, who could have had my head had she so desired. But when I heard her grandkids were coming to visit in 2018 – and just up the road at the National Portrait Gallery – well of course I was going to be there, tiara tinkling.
I wanted to grab the Library team I’d gathered for the 2011 royal outing, but for some reason they were all washing their hair/learning how to catalogue lost books, so I wandered up to the NPG alone, and clearly pathetic.
I was only three hours early so there wasn’t much of a crowd. There wasn’t a crowd at all actually, just some confused tourists who were trying to find the portrait of some bloke called Blue Poles. “Try next door,” I said.
I couldn’t work out where would be the best place to stand. The entrance perhaps, they’d have to get out of the car at some stage to get inside the building. Or maybe inside would be best. The public wasn’t allowed inside but I knew some of the curators – when I tried to sneak in, they smiled – and threatened to call the police. I was on the outer, again.
As I walked outside, a fleet of shiny white cars turned into the gallery, straight past me. I was just about ready to take myself to the Tower when the car window next to where I was standing rolled down and a hand flopped out. OK, maybe not flop, more of an extension really. I knew it had to be Her. It certainly wasn’t Him. There was no heir on the hand. Just a bloody great sapphire surrounded by sparkly bits.
I waved back at her hand and so know for sure she saw me and would tell her mother-in-law. Such an honour.