How I Met the Queen of England
It was 1993. I was playing in a long running show at a hotel in one of the Caribbean islands still governed by England when it was announced that Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and the Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh would be making a tour of the British Commonwealth. Due to her age it would probably be her last visit…
I also heard through one of the establishment’s VPs that the hotel I was performing at was beginning a major renovation since they were chosen to host a twelve o’clock tea ceremony upon Her Majesty’s arrival. It was then I decided I had to be at the ceremony, and more importantly, in the receiving line.
This was not the first time I made my way into things I wasn’t invited to. (See: The Grammy Award, William-Morris Agency, or KYW-TV). The first step was easy. The cast was already invited to view the ceremony, but from behind the velvet ropes. (Velvet ropes do not a prison make…)
When the day finally came, the cast went over together. Dresses, suits, ties. I however, was hiding a few other items: My hotel ID badge, a pair of sunglasses, and my usual cunning.
We got to the hotel and made our way to the lush hotel patio and garden. I made a pit stop to the back office of the check-in desk where I procured a clipboard and some fake paperwork that I shoved into the clip, then rejoined the group.
I surveyed the area. The general public, dignitaries, the press, and three security teams were present: the hotel security, the Royal Bahamian police, and Her Majesty’s team.
This was my moment. I slid on my glasses; clipped on my badge as if it were something “official” for the event, pulled out the clipboard and stepped over the velvet ropes.
I kept a low profile but pretended to survey the area. Someone would yell, “Back it up!” to the crowd and I would echo them, “Okay, back it up!” The look, some attitude, and, with the occasional small talk, each security team assumed I was with the other.
I was doing well until the hotel’s GM arrived. I couldn’t let him see me. I’d stroll behind trees to hide without looking like I was hiding from security. The cast was loving this. Then the official horns blew. The procession was arriving and everyone scheduled to meet the royals got into line. I threw my clipboard behind a tree and stepped into line somewhere in the middle.
We were given proper protocol instructions that included not reaching out to her unless she did first and refer to her initially as “Your Majesty” followed by “Ma’am.” “It’s Ma’am and in Ham, not Mum as in Hum,” they’d say. Or was it the other way around?
In walked the Prime Minister, The Queen, the Duke and a few other Sirs. It took a long time for anyone to reach the middle of the line. But then in her floral print dress, big hat, purse, and pearls, she was in front of me … crystal blue eyes, alabaster skin (not sure what that means … pure and pasty?), a gentle smile and about a foot and a half away. I was so close I could have easily slapped her.
But what do you say to the Queen? “How are the kids?” “What’s in the purse?” “Is that your scepter or are you just happy to see me?” One of my comic friends suggested, “Keep movin’ sister there’s only room for one queen here!”
Our chat began like this:
Hello. What do you do here?
Well, your Majesty, I am an entertainer here at the hotel.
Oh? What do you do?
I am a ventriloquist.
Oh! (Chuckle) Do you know (Insert British ventriloquist here)?
Yes I do! (I did not. Is lying to the Queen a criminal offense?)
Some of my Brit friends could care less about the Royal family but we do not have this kind of thing in the US so I was excited. But at this point I had gotten what I came for and now I was ready for her to move on down the receiving line. However, “Lengthy Lizzi” had other plans.
Well thank you for bringing your craft to the Commonwealth.
It’s my pleasure Ma’am.
It’s lovely what they have done to the property isn’t it?
It is …
I should mention that she has now spent more time with me than the general manager or anyone else. The GM was shocked I was there, but what could he do now?
It’s a very impressive skill to make a stranger feel relaxed by acting interested and making small talk. The Queen had to do it for twenty to thirty people at this stop in the day and probably 100 more times before the day was through.
She continued with me a bit more and, to wrap it up, I repeated something I heard someone else say earlier, referring to a wrist brace she wore from an incident with a horse.
… And might I add, (gesturing to the brace) you’re looking quite well.
Thank you. I am feeling much better.
Her Majesty moved on down the line. The chat lasted about three minutes, which gave the press time to push in on us and get some good shots. I was hoping to get a copy of a photo or two from the local press. I mean, you can’t just put your arm around her and snap a shot with your disposable camera! (Ben Affleck, maybe; the Queen, NEVER…)
But the fun wasn’t over yet. Next was the Duke. He has always been known for his “green” agenda but, as a person, is thought of by some as a bit of a dud. I really just wanted to leave at this point but there were herds of people behind me. And when it comes to a receiving line with royalty, there is no way out until it is over.
Phillip got to the girl next to me and, in an attempt at small talk, he leaned in and read her badge out loud. “Executive confidential secretary. To whom are you the secretary for?” To which I leaned in and said, “I believe that’s confidential!” I thought it was hilarious. He was not amused.
Two hours later I was back in my apartment when the phone rang. I was asked to participate in the evening’s royal performance. I was in a panic. It is a once in a lifetime thing, but my act was still very young and crude … to be blunt, a lot of dick jokes. It would only be a few minutes of time though, so I agreed.
Basically I had three jokes that I stretched. I remember very little about it. It was kinda like the first time you have sex: dark, scary, and over before it started.
Later, the Prime Minister asked me if I would come perform at his mansion Christmas Day where he hosts the children’s orphanage. I did and afterwards, he asked if there was anything he could do for me while on the island. I explained that the building I was staying at was new and had telephones, but the road had no telephone lines. The next day, my phone had a dial tone.
But there’s an update to this story.
In 2012 when doing technical work in Los Angeles (See: The Beverly Hilton), I was asked to be the exclusive handheld cameraman for Prince William and Kate’s participation at a technology summit. They were coming to the States right after the wedding. One of the production teams thought it would be cute to paste the photo of the Queen and me on the back of my press pass. I was inches from them both for about forty minutes. William noticed the photo and asked if that was his grandmother! I peeked out from behind the camera and gave the thumbs up since I was supposed to be “invisible and unobtrusive.”
He was engaging, incredibly charming, and showed tremendous humility to each person he addressed as if they were the only people in the room.
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