The Late Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III [Reflections and Memories]
Like many people I am truly saddened by the death of The Queen. She has been a constant throughout my life although I was born in the reign of her father King George VI. I have been following the ceremony and tradition associated with passing of Sovereignty from one Monarch to the next with fascination. It is moving to watch hundreds of years of tradition happening live on television, something never before seen.
I have been thinking through the occasions in my life where I have connected with or been touched by the late Queen or by the King. I have been moved in thinking through them and want to record them. I hope you enjoy reading about them.
Malta and The Coronation
There is a photograph I remember that my first wife always treasured. It was a picture of her father, James Martin, in Malta during the Second World War. He was a civil engineer who worked for the Navy Works Department. He spent much of the war in Malta in charge of the Naval Dockyard in Valletta. The photograph was of King George being introduced to the men maintaining the dockyard through the incessant bombing it received. One of them was James Martin, who later received an OBE for his services in Malta.
My own memories begin with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I was five years old and I remember being invited, with other children in the neighbourhood, to the big house down the road to watch the coronation on television. This was an extraordinary experience for a small boy who had never watched television before; our own set did not come till some years later. The children gathered around the television not really understanding what we were watching. I have no memory of what I actually watched, just of the whole experience.
Manchester Grammar School and Concert Hall
Some 12 years later I was involved in putting on a Pageant for Queen Elizabeth. 1965 was the 450th anniversary of the founding of Manchester Grammar School and the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. This momentous occasion was celebrated with a visit by the Queen along with accompanying activities. As a member of the Dramatic Society I was involved in the production of the Pageant, a role I was to repeat a number of times in years to come.
Just over 30 years later I was jointly responsible for the architectural lighting of the Manchester Concert Hall, now known as The Bridgewater Hall. The Queen officially opened the Concert Hall and I was privileged to be one of the Design Team presented to the Queen. It is an occasion I will always remember.
Experience in Greenwich
Earlier in my career in the theatre I had a more informal connection with the Queen and Prince Philip. I was the Electrician at Greenwich Theatre and my assistant was a young man who came from a well connected family. He wanted to start learning how things worked in the theatre so he could go on the become a Theatre Director. I will refrain from naming hime for reasons that will become obvious.
We were in the workshop taking care of some maintenance on a day when the Queen and Prince Philip were going walkabout in Greenwich. I have no memory of why this was. I suggested that we go into Greenwich and see the Queen. My assistant reluctantly agreed. We found a place at the front along the route the royal couple were taking. Prince Philip stopped to talk to the person next us and moved on. I turned to speak to my companion about it and could not see him. He was crouching down behind me. I asked him what he was doing and he replied, "It's a bit awkward really, you see I used to take out his daughter." It turned out he was the boyfriend of Princess Anne who tool her to the much publicised visit to see the musical Hair.
I met the then Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, when he launched the lighting I designed for Trafalgar Square, London and again the Queen for the ceremony to launch the lighting for the Albert Memorial. Memorably I was employed by The Royal Household, and received a cheque from them, for the lighting of the statue of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, which was erected next to her husband, King George VI.
The Prince of Wales Theatre, London
The most memorable moment was when I was introduced to Charles and Camilla, although it was not planned that I should. The occasion was the re-opening of the Prince of Wales Theatre in London's West End. I had designed the lighting for the total refurbishment of the theatre and was invited to the opening night of the musical Mama Mia to celebrate. Charles and Camilla were invited as honoured guests by Cameron Mackintosh the Theatre Owner and well-known Theatre Producer.
In the interval I went for a drink with an assistant in the beautiful Circle Bar. We were a bit bored with the show so decided to stay on drinking cameron's champagne after everyone returned to their seats. Everything was quiet when suddenly Cameron appeared through the doors with Charles and Camilla in tow. He was showing them round the theatre before the second act commenced. Of course he expected the bar to be empty but was faced with us standing at the bar drinking. Without a beat he rescued the situation by introducing me as the lighting designer responsible for the architectural lighting in the theatre. The day was saved.
I love the way minor connections with the Royal family have woven their way through my life. It has emphasised the stability Queen Elizabeth brought to the seven decades of my life, a stability that many others have felt acutely in recent days.