A Word with Howard Croft: Howard and Her Majesty
Sixty years ago, in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II claimed the English throne after the death of her father, King George VI. Plans for national celebrations of her Diamond Jubilee in London are said to be going smoothly and, if the skies above my home in rural North Yorkshire are anything to go by, not the least of things these plans are concerned with is security. Several days a week groups of military helicopters perform a grim low level ballet with fighter jets circling around and above, in among them an erratically flown light aircraft. The scenario is not hard to figure out.
In towns and villages everywhere street parties are in the early stages of organization; those held last year to mark the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were a trial run for the Diamond Jubilee, the first for a hundred years and only the second ever.
Soon we shall be hearing boastful claims of past royal encounters from all manner of upstarts, chancers, victims of false memory syndrome and the deluded. I thought I should get in early with my own, but this is the real deal.
I am ashamed to say that I have met the Queen, or HMQ as she is referred to, on only three occasions. I am aware that there are those with credible claims to higher scores than mine, including some Americans, but others have not been so lucky and have never met her. One wonders, quite frankly, what they have been doing for the past sixty years, but there it is. My own recollections might cheer them up.
I have only a vague memory of our first meeting, which took place in the fifties when I was about eight years old, though HMQ may well be able to give a more detailed account. For reasons best known to her advisers she agreed to visit my home city of Hull, one of the less salubrious conurbations in England. Hundreds of children were marshalled into an inner city park with the hope of catching a glimpse of her as she was driven along the ranks of guttersnipes in a vehicle of the type that would become popular with popes. From time to time she would hop down to get up close and personal.
I can only speculate as to why she was drawn to me, my shining face and obvious intelligence perhaps, or the enthusiasm of my shouted hosannas. More likely I suspect it was the evident fact that I was one of the few urchins whose mother had sent him out with a handkerchief on such a cold day. She was a woman who knew how to prepare her son to greet a monarch.
The second time we ran across each other, eight years later, was when I went to London to receive my Queen’s Scout badge, the highest award available to a Boy Scout that involved mastery of many skills, not least of them a demonstrated ability to light a fire up a tree and make a pot of tea. This was before the days of health and safety concerns took over our lives. Again she picked me out, but why? I was a well set up youth, wearing the regulation shorts of the scout movement which fetchingly showcased my manly legs. Had they caught her eye? Only she can say but, a discrete woman by any standards, she never would. We shall never know.
Our third encounter, in the mid-eighties, is more memorable, probably for both of us. The occasion was the ceremonial opening of the refurbished premises of the Royal Society of Medicine, of which she is the Patron and where I was employed as the publisher. I had put on a small display of my books for her to admire, the centrepiece of which was a volume entitled Chemonucleolysis. She spotted it at once, her eyes glazed over and the following exchange took place:
HMQ: “Is this the kind of thing you do?”
Self: (bowing deeply) “Yes, Ma’am. This is the kind of thing I do.”
HMQ: (backing off) “Ah. You have given us much to think about.”
Self: “Thank you, Ma’am!”
This day was enhanced by the presence of my two guests, a friend and his wife from New Jersey who had flown over especially with hopes of a glimpsing the royal personage. They saw her at very close quarters indeed (it was a small gathering) but exchanged no words with her. However, following closely behind her was her husband, Prince Philip, who paused at the group where my friends were located and, in that bluff naval way of his, shouted “Any Americans here?” They had quite a chat, he and my friends, and although this happened almost thirty years ago I believe that they are still dining out on the experience, and I don’t think Jack has bought a drink in his club since that day.
My encounters with junior royals are of little interest, Princess Anne and her older brother Charles and so on, and they need not detain us here, except to say that Charles was in the street outside a hospital when I spotted him, being heckled by a rough looking crowd – republicans possibly, or admirers of his first wife, the lovely Diana.
Now, Diana I must mention. I had gone into a small leather goods shop to buy a small suede wallet for use by my then teenage daughter, Helen, as a discrete container for her acne medication. When I went to pay there, at the adjacent till, was Herself. She looked at me and held my eye, rather longingly I thought, as we completed our transactions. What was on her mind that day, I wonder? We shall never know.