- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

The queen and me

The first time I met the queen …

I’ve been waiting more than 20 years to write that line, and my editors thought now was the time to reveal my close, if at times awkward, encounters with royalty as we prepare to cover the visit to Washington on Monday by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

As I was about to say, the first time I met the queen was in 1985 when I was the Toronto bureau chief for this newspaper. Actually it was less of a meeting and more of an accident.

I was covering her Canadian visit when I got separated from the reporters on one of her stops in New Brunswick. The others were herded behind a wire barrier, while I lingered by a table with women knitting handicrafts. Tired of standing, I knelt just as the queen and Prince Philip approached.

So there I was looking up into the famous face, and she, with a curious expression, looked down at this fellow on his knee.

Three years later, I was the London correspondent for the paper when I got an invitation to a luncheon with Prince Philip, who delivered one of his famously irreverent quotes.

Answering a question about the difference between killing animals for sport as opposed for food, the prince, an avid hunter, replied with a mangled metaphor.

“I don’t think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing,” he said. “It is really rather like saying it is perfectly all right to commit adultery, provided you don’t enjoy it.”

That made headlines.

Later my wife, Suzanne, and I were fortunate enough to be invited to one of the queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace. I rented the requisite cutaway coat and top hat for the occasion.

“Yes, yes,” I often say to my friends. “My wife and I had tea with the queen. Just us — and about 2,000 other people.”

It was a massive but orderly affair. We sipped tea and munched on little sandwiches with the crusts cut off and chatted with members of a visiting Australian sharpshooting club wearing blue blazers and bush hats.

Suddenly the queen appeared on the terrace of the palace. The crowd parted like the Red Sea, and she glided among her guests saying, “How do you do. How do you do. How do you do.”

I can also report that the queen had pink flamingoes, and not the plastic kind, flapping about the palace grounds.

After returning to Washington, I was invited to a buffet lunch on the queen’s last visit here in 1991. She shook hands with every guest as we entered the dinning room. Standing at the buffet table with a fellow reporter, Martin Sieff, a native of Belfast, I met her again.

“Your majesty,” Mr. Sieff exclaimed. “Let me introduce you to James Morrison.”

I wanted to say, “We’ve met,” but I didn’t. I just shook the white-gloved hand for a second time.

Mr. Sieff, recalling her coronation in 1953, told her, “We danced in the streets.”

“Yes,” she replied. “We must do that again some time.”

Next I met Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the duchess of Wessex, at the Hillandale Villa in Georgetown in 2002. They were the featured guests at a swank luncheon for the Congressional Award Foundation, which is associated with a youth program developed by Prince Philip.

A few months ago, I had my final close, but brief, royal encounter when I met Prince Andrew at a British Embassy reception. Amanda Downs, the ambassador’s social secretary, introduced me to the prince, who asked, “And what do you do?”

“I am a reporter with The Washington Times,” I replied.

The prince looked puzzled.

“I’ve never heard of your paper,” he said.

“Well,” I replied, “President Bush reads it.”

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