Although the actual calendar generally works like a clock, it is during visits and state visits that things tend to fail -guidance- and, like all members of the Royal Family, the Queen enjoys those moments when events do not go at all according to the plan .
However, her self-control is such that unexpected events, no matter how surprising, rarely throw her out.
There was an awkward moment towards the end of the 1961 tour of West Africa. During a state banquet aboard the Royal Yacht, the wife of a Gambian VIP, when receiving a sauce, proceeded to pour it into her wine glass. The Queen did not flinch.
She managed to keep a similarly straight face at an even more challenging moment during her 1970 tour of Australia. Sir Jock Slater, then his squire, remembers an investiture in which a man in the lineup was increasingly perplexed about the correct form. Slater advised him that it was easiest to do exactly the same as the person in front of him.
The Queen and Nicolae Ceausescu on the state visit of the Romanian leader to Great Britain in 1978
By the time Slater discovered that the man was following a woman, it was too late.
"The man bowed as good as he could," says Slater, who became First Lord of the Sea. "To this day, I do not think he knew what he had done because His Majesty was wonderful and he held out his hand to help him get up, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "
The diplomacy of the Queen has been tested both at home and abroad. She has received more world leaders here than any of her predecessors. She has also had some atrocious guests to stay in recent years, not least the brutal Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who came to stay at Buckingham Palace in June 1978.
In exchange for a promise to boost Britain's economy with $ 300 million aerospace contracts, he and his wife Elena received the greatest welcome they had received anywhere, though not before the Queen had acted on the president's advice. Valéry Giscard d & # 39; Estaing from France.
He called the Palace to warn him about the conduct of Ceausescu's entourage during a visit to Paris a few months earlier. After his departure, it was discovered that the Romanians had emptied their official accommodation of anything that could be unscrewed, including lamps, vases, ashtrays and bathroom accessories.
"It was as if the thieves had moved during a whole summer," he said.
After this call, the Queen asked the Master of the House to remove any remotely valuable loose objects from the royal quarters of the Belgian Suite. As Lord Butler, former private secretary of three prime ministers, recalls: "They were advised to move the silver brushes from the Palace dressing table or the Romanians would pinch the lot."
Surprisingly, now it turns out that the man responsible for the visit, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, was really against everything. The Foreign Office files include a confidential handwritten note from Dr. David Owen, written a few days before the arrival of Ceausescus.
"Who agreed to this visit?" He asked his private secretary. I did? If I did, I'm sorry. "
The diplomatic documents, revealed for the first time, contain an advance report on the guests of the queen, written by the British ambassador in Bucharest, Reggie Secondé. Ceausescu was "an absolute dictator like the one that can be found in the world today", his wife was a "viper" and his children were "irresponsible".
Palace staff was warned of "disastrous" scenes on Ceausescu's previous tours, including one to Belgium, where his guards had abused the locals and "fought for places at the table."
On the positive side, he was "well disposed toward Britain" as long as there were "constant praise for Ceausescu's ability as an international statesman."
The ambassador added: "It is very important to keep Mrs. Ceausescu happy." Madame likes to go shopping, the Romanians insisted that their dubious scientific credentials be recognized with great academic awards, preferably from Oxford or Cambridge.
The president of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, toured London with the queen in an open carriage, at the beginning of his state visit
After desperate requests for help, the Foreign Office finally assured him an honorary chair of the Polytechnic of Central London, plus a grant from the Royal Institute of Chemistry.
Ostensibly, everything was exactly the same as for any other visit, although the small-eyed veterans of these meetings would have detected some winks and gestures in the preparations for the state banquet.
Most visitors to the state could expect the best wines from the Palace's wineries to be served, but for Ceausescu, the Queen began with a perfectly respectable but uninspiring white to accompany the fish, followed by a decidedly pedestrian claret (in of state banquet).
He later described Ceausescu as "that dreadful little man" and quickly decided that he had seen enough visitors.
While walking his dogs in the garden of Buckingham Palace the next day, he saw that the Ceausescus came in the opposite direction (they preferred to talk outside, for fear of secret listening devices inside the Palace). And, as he later revealed to another guest, he hid behind a bush in his own garden to avoid them.
Touching a link with Mandela that made her a dancing queen
If Nicolae Ceausescu was one of the most hated visitors of the Queen, one of the favorites was, without a doubt, Nelson Mandela, whose familiarity with the monarch was remembered by his assistant, Zelda la Grange.
"I think she was one of the few people who called her by her name and seemed to have fun with her," he later wrote, adding that Mandela refuted any attempt by his second wife, Graça Machel, to correct him.
"But she calls me Nelson," he replied. On one occasion, when he saw her, he said: "Oh, Elizabeth, you have lost weight!"
The Queen made her first state visit to the new South Africa in 1995, a trip that could have been delayed for a long time, or that never happened at all, had it not been for the Queen herself.
Here was an incipient democracy that had witnessed terrible violence in the run-up to the 1994 elections, and Sir Robert Woodard, then captain of the Royal Yacht Britannia, recalls that Douglas Hurd had serious reservations about the Queen's visit to South Africa so soon.
"The foreign secretary was worried and the queen invalidated it," says Woodard. "She said:" Mr. Mandela is getting advice from many people, but nobody is really giving him help. He needs physical assistance and needs a show. "She was going to give him one."
The Queen was not flattering herself. The new South African president had already seen a few politicians and business leaders opening a path to his door, including then Prime Minister John Major and French President Mitterrand. However, nothing would support his leadership as the razzmatazz of a state visit by the Queen.
One of his first acts as president had been to restore South Africa's membership in the Commonwealth. His love for his guest was reflected in every aspect of the visit. The rules of normal state visit dictate that the host establishes several formalities at the beginning, then leaves the guest to do so, as Mandela did with the French president.
For the Queen, however, it was very different, with Mandela reappearing continuously during her stay. The presidential staff even spent £ 20,000 on new tablecloths and napkins. For President Mitterrand, they had used the old things.
The following year, Mandela arrived in London. No visitor to the state in years had attracted the large crowd that greeted him, with Horse Guards Parade and the Mall packed up for a royal wedding.
During an evening of music inspired by South Africa at the Albert Hall – or, as Mandela called it, "that great round building" – he stood up and applauded. Other members of the Royal Family did the same, until the Queen joined.
No one could remember the last time the monarch was seen dancing in public, and even less during a state visit. However, that week the rulebook had been sent to a Palace bin for a long time. Hence a moving moment during a lunch at The Dorchester earlier in the day. Abandoning the convention of not delivering speeches at the banquets back, Mandela delivered a personal tribute to this kind lady.
The Queen, who generally avoids improvised speeches as much as avoids shellfish and cats, cheerfully broke her own rule. Without notes, he got up to praise this wonderful man & # 39;
Those who have worked closely with the Queen say that this was not simply a cordial friendship between two heads of state.
It was more a meeting of minds between two people accustomed to well intentioned but useless adulation; both very aware of the pitfalls of being a "national treasure".
Ceausescu is far from being the only detestable guest that the British government has imposed on the Queen. However, despite the objectionable, rude and sometimes frank psychotic visitors she has endured over the years, those who work for her say that she really enjoys her role as hostess and that she knows that the smallest details can sometimes annoy her. to the greatest people.
Before the 1960 state visit of King Bhumibol of Thailand, the Queen sent a note through her private secretary to all the bands involved in the visit.
"You should not play a note from The King And I," he wrote. Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical about a former Thai monarch might have been tremendously popular in London, but the queen was well aware that her guest had banned him from Thailand for being disrespectful.
She was also thoughtful when President Chirac of France and his wife Bernadette came to Windsor for the centenary of the Entente Cordiale in 2004.
Aware that this was an occasion to celebrate 100 years of Franco-British bonhomie, he realized that it was a bit inappropriate to entertain his guests in a room named after France's biggest defeat. Just for one night, the Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle officially became "The Music Room".
The most dramatic and telegenic element of each state visit has always been the procession of the carriage between the welcome ceremony (formerly at Victoria Station and now at Horse Guards) and the Palace. Accompanied by the Sovereign Escort of the Domestic Cavalry, the Queen and her guest travel in the first carriage, while the Duke directs the visiting spouse to carriage number two. Other members of the family and the rest of the entourage continue.
The procession always attracts a crowd and, from time to time, a protest as well.
Upon the arrival of Japan's war leader, Emperor Hirohito, in 1971 many British war veterans who had survived the brutality of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps attended. There were some boos and a man was arrested for throwing his coat in the carriage, but most remained in disdainful silence when the carriage passed by.
Sir Jock Slater was riding in one of the back wagons and remembers the strange lack of noise. "When I told my counterpart from the Japanese Embassy that I expected the emperor not to be offended by the silence, he looked at me, smiled and pointed out that the silence in Tokyo was a sign of respect."
The Duke of Edinburgh had an especially memorable drive during the state visit of President Urho Kekkonen of Finland in 1969, although it is unlikely that the same can be said of his counterpart. The first lady of Finland, Sylvi Kekkonen, was so nervous before the formal arrival that she accidentally took a sleeping pill instead of her heart medicine.
As soon as she got into her carriage, she began to fall asleep, while her traveling companions, the duke and Princess Anne, struggled to keep her conscious and upright all the way back to the palace.
As with the procession, the state banquet held in honor of the guest has remained largely unchanged since the reigns of the previous monarchs. However, the Queen has made some subtle adjustments over the years.
She never liked long meals. Then, when, later in the reign, the Master of the Royal House suggested that banquets could be shortened in 20 minutes if there was no soup, the Queen accepted the idea.
The starch of these occasions could, inevitably, leave the usual attendees yearning for a place of drama.
A member of the Royal House remembers the night when Helen Adeane, the naughty wife of the Queen's famous and private secretary, Sir Michael Adeane, encouraged the proceedings by dropping a fake mess on the carpet in the middle of the banquet. The footmen in livery were anxious. How had a corgi slipped into a state banquet?
While the joke was much enjoyed later, the staff was less amused by the behavior of some of the companions during President Hu Jintao's state banquet in China in 2005. "The Queen commented that everyone was taking out their laptops during the banquet state and making emails at the table, "recalls David Cameron. & # 39; Very bad manners & # 39;
If the guests arrive late, there will not be a shameful breach at the table. A "reserve" banquet is held for the remaining members of both retinues at the Royal Household Dining Room. They will eat the same food, they will wear the same clothes and, in case they do not show up, they will send one of them to retrieve the numbers.
Perhaps the most original excuse for a late appearance was at the 1989 state banquet for President Babangida of Nigeria.
According to Sir Patrick (now Lord) Wright, former head of the Diplomatic Service, one of the president's senior officials arrived just as dinner was over. He apologized immediately to the Queen and explained that he had missed the presidential plane that day because he was not married. As a result, there had been no wife to wake him up in time.
Another traditional feature of a state visit has been the return feast, when the host compensates part of the Queen's hospitality.
During the first state visit of a Chinese leader, in 1999, President Jiang Zemin organized an elaborate meal for the queen at the Chinese embassy. Those who expected a formal and rigid occasion were impressed.
The protocol dictates that there are no speeches at a return banquet. However, once the dinner was over, the 73-year-old president stood up and broke into a song. Dame Margaret Beckett, then leader of the Commons and future secretary of Foreign Affairs, recalled how the queen, who had unexpectedly found herself next to a cabaret dance, seemed to enjoy every moment.
"I was in front of the Thatchers, and Denis Thatcher was horrified." It was like a small volcano bubbling up and down, but it was clear that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were on the verge of hysteria for quite some time.
On any social occasion, the Queen would normally consider her talks with the heads of state as confidential, but made an exception in 1971. After taking power in a military coup, Ugandan President Idi Amin made it known that he wanted to come to London to meet to the Head of the Commonwealth.
President Nicolae Ceausescu is received by the Queen on her 1978 state visit to Great Britain
Hit leader who came to cultivate on his yacht
Valentine Strasser, a violent and arrogant Commonwealth leader who entered the royal orbit during the 1990s, was also the youngest head of state in the world. A junior army officer in Sierra Leone, he had taken power in 1992 at the age of 25.
The following year, he arrived at the Commonwealth summit in Cyprus and was invited to a reception with the Queen aboard the Royal Yacht.
Sir Robert Woodard, Britannia's captain, recalls that Strasser "behaved very badly", ignoring his outstretched hand and thus missing Woodard's polite warning about the passage on his way to the reception.
He went on his face. "I could not have been more satisfied really," says Woodard.
The next day, Strasser returned for his individual audience with the Queen. "This time, he shook my hand and hers was like a wet herring," says Woodard. "He was overwhelmed because he realized that he was going to be alone with His Majesty."
Later it would appear that the Queen had given the young dictator dictated severe advice on the need to embrace democracy.
In 1996, however, he himself had been expelled in a coup. The Foreign Office even tried to enroll him in a university course in Britain until his colleagues opposed to a conference with a former dictator. He retired and was last seen in Sierra Leone, drinking a lot and living with his mother.
Although the British government was already aware of the terrible human rights abuses committed by its mobsters, it was eager to put it quickly at their disposal. At the request of the Foreign Office, the Queen gave her a lunch at Buckingham Palace, where she quickly realized that she was dealing with a maniac.
Taking it in his confidence, Amin told him that he planned to start a war, invading the Commonwealth of Tanzania nation to establish a corridor to the sea. As soon as lunch was over, she asked her officials to contact the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and to warn him about what Amin had said.
In a few months it became clear that relations with Amin were condemned, as it announced the expulsion of 80,000 Ugandan Asians, many of whom had close ties to Britain.
At the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1977, held in London to coincide with the Silver Jubilee celebrations, most of the world had heard about Amin's massacres and torture squads.
The madman's assistance would have been enormously embarrassing for both the Labor government of Jim Callaghan and the Queen. However, he let it be known that he planned to come. Even when the heads of government met at St. Paul's Cathedral for the thanksgiving service to commemorate the monarch's 25th birthday on the throne, there was a palpable concern that Amin could appear at the last minute.
Earl Mountbatten remembered asking the Queen what she would have done if she had caught the party.
Noticing that the Lord's Pearl Sword had been placed in front of her, she replied that she would have hit him hard on the head.
In the event, Amin stayed away from the Jubilee. Although he was an implacable and ruthless dictator in his country, he retained a permanent affection for the Queen.
Around the same time as the shocking lunch of the queen with Amin in 1971, the Edward Heath government invited Mobutu Sese Seko, the fearful corrupt president of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to pay a state visit to Britain. .
The date was set for 1973 and Mobutu arrived at Buckingham Palace with his wife Marie-Antoinette, who exhibited a lack of tact and similar common sense with his French namesake of a previous age.
She had smuggled her dog to Britain in the presidential luggage. Given the strict quarantine laws and the prevalence of rabies in continental Europe, it was a very serious violation of the law.
Ms. Mobutu's subterfuge was soon discovered when she ordered a steak from the Palace kitchens to feed her pet.
The Queen's staff says that no one has seen her more angry than when she found out about the four-legged smuggling that was hiding in the Belgian Suite. "Get that dog out of my house!" He yelled to the Deputy Director of the Family and ordered the immediate removal of the royal corgis from Windsor for safekeeping.
Ms. Mobutu's pet was quarantined immediately, while her and her husband's stay continued in a glacial environment, another unfortunate entry in the book of visits of a monarch who has really seen it all before.
Adapted from Queen Of The World, by Robert Hardman, published by Century at £ 25. © Robert Hardman 2018.
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