It's a rare moment when I don't know what to say to somebody.
As I saw the horse-drawn carriage approach, my heart began to pound. It was only 50 yards away and I desperately tried to figure out what to say to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Nothing seemed appropriate. They were coming directly towards me!
In June 1982, I lived in Woking, Surrey. The time was coming for our family to pack up and move back
to Toronto after two years abroad. Sir William Perkins School, where I taught Mathematics, was winding down and classes had reached the "fill-in-the-time-before-exams" stage known well by all high school teachers.
During a mid-morning break in the staff room, fellow teacher Penny came over to chat. “Pat, I know you’re rather keen on the Royal Family and you’re heading back to Canada soon. I’ve heard of a secret spot in the Windsor Great Park where the Queen and Prince Philip transfer from a limousine to a horse-drawn carriage to proceed to Ascot. Very few members of the public know where it is. Might you like me to take you there tomorrow?”
I’d become interested in all-things-royal the previous summer when Charles married Diana. And now it
was Royal Ascot Horseracing Week.
“Gosh, that would be amazing!” I replied. “Do you think Miss Timbrell would give us the time off? How long would we be away from school?”
“I think the transfer happens at about 1 o’clock. It would take less than half an hour to drive from here to the Windsor Great Park, but let’s plan to be gone for three hours around lunchtime. After all, she’s Queen of Canada, too, and there’s not much happening during classes. Maureen is happy to take over for you. Do you want to bring your kids?”
“That would be wonderful. Tonight I’ll see if they want to come too.” My boys were then eight and 11. They did.
So that’s how the four of us came to be standing on the side of a paved road that traverses the park: the kids in their St. Michael’s School summer uniforms; me in an ivory tee-shirt with wraparound African cotton skirt in ivory, brown and green. An outfit unworthy of meeting a monarch!
Penny had known where to park and it took mere minutes to walk to the secret vantage point. We were the ONLY spectators waiting in the June sunshine and I prepared to take a photo with our Polaroid camera.
Within minutes, the two royal passengers appeared, and it dawned on me that we would be only about
12 feet away as they passed by. There were no cheering crowds to join calling “Long live the Queen!” or whatever correct protocol involves. What on earth does one say when face-to-face with Her Majesty?
As we waved, I called out, “Have a nice time!” figuring they were on their way to watch horseracing
which was known to be her grand passion. How lame.
Neither the queen nor prince said a word, but they smiled at us and waved back. At the very least, I should have said, “Greetings from Canada!” I continue to hunt for that Polaroid photo.