Snapping a Sovereign

Many times on this website I have logged my encounters with notable individuals,including so far an astronaut, three MPs, an MEP a baron and a bishop. In recent weeks I have repeatedly made reference to the reconstruction of the campus of the University of Hull. Today those threads intertwine as I recount the opening of the Allam Medical building by Her Majesty The Queen.

First notice of the event was given nine days in advance in an electronic message by the vice-chancellor. More information came in stages, with the exact timings revealed only the night before along with a list of suitable vantage points for people not directly involved. Security was visible yesterday, with police cars appearing intermittently on the forecourt. Today crowd barriers were erected at key points and several hundred people swarmed behind them. Having had a long morning lecture I was unable to stand on the front line, so went into the neighbouring Brynmor Jones Library. Even there it was crowded, but I found a spot of empty window space on the third floor. This turned out to be far more advantageous than standing by the barriers – firstly because I could sit down at a computer desk instead of standing in the cold air, secondly because my window was parallel to the southern face of the Allam Medical building, and through two layers of glass we could see the official party moving around inside. We spotted the bright blue flash of Her Majesty’s dress as she emerged from the lift on the third floor. We also spotted some of her attachment running down the access stairs in advance of her departure. Finally she emerged from the glass doors to return to her state limousine to be driven over to the Canham Turner building for the next stage of her engagement.

Another dense crowd formed in advance of her emergence, so getting a view was impossible. I tried to find an upstairs window in the Robert Blackburn building opposite but could not see anything useful. From directly behind the crowd I could barely get a view of the door and from the steps of student central my eye line was blocked by the large metal overhang. Desperately I sought a viewing post inside Canham Turner, eventually joining a smaller clump of onlookers peering through a glass door off the entrance lobby. The view was extremely limited – made worse by so many students pressing their enormous smart phones against the glass. Attendance at these events always requires a delicate balance between present and posterity – one can spend so much time trying to record the perfect video or photograph that one defeats the objective of actually looking at the subject in the flesh. Eventually we saw the Queen and other guests go by (judging by their elaborate clothes we guessed one of them was the Lord Mayor of Hull) and then I dashed back outside to see the flag atop the limousine shrinking as it drove away. Briefly I considered that the day was over – then I had another idea.

Rushing around the back of the Gulbenkian Centre and the Loten Workshops I found that the access road behind the campus (beyond which are the old sports centre and the new Courtyard accommodation) was relatively uncrowded. The procession of cars passed barely a metre from me. Upon spotting a small girl with a bouquet of flowers, one of the support vehicles even paused and collected them to pass on later.

This is probably the peak of my encounters. Reigning for more than six decades in sixteen countries, our hexadecimal nonagenarian monarch is as famous a human as is ever likely to exist in my lifetime. I guess it’s all downhill from here.

FURTHER READING

Long To Reign Over Us

A dark-haired woman of 19 in a military uniform stands in from of a green truck with a large red cross on the right face.

HRH The Princess Elizabeth in April 1945.

Not many people, even among royalty, make it to the age of ninety years. George III and Victoria both expired at 81, while the first Elizabeth was a source of amazement for living to 69. Indeed, many a sovereign has died rather young – Henry V died at 36, Richard II at 33, Mary II at 32 and two Tudor monarchs (Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey) never reached adulthood. Edward V did not manage to reach his teens.

All the more impressive it then is for our diamond nonagenarian to reign as she does today. More so, it is a significant accomplishment that today’s birthday girl can still appear in public for her celebrations, whereas few others of her age could claim likewise. By the time that George III reached his final year he was bald, blind, and utterly insane. Among his many descendants he had outlived three of his children and three of his grandchildren. His wife, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg, tightly predeceased him as well.

Victoria had her own share of tragedies: having been one of few monarchs to truly marry for love, she spent thirty-nine years in mourning for her lost Prince Consort. Again, several princes could not outlive the Queen – Alice, Alfred (of Edinburgh), Leopold, Frederick, Sigismund, Waldemar, Albert Victor, Alexander John, Friedrich, Marie, Alfred (of Saxe-Coburg), Christian Victor, Harald, and two unnamed stillbirths.

Lilibet, by contrast, has her litter, and theirs, intact. Though she has lost her younger sister, the only death so far in the generation below her was Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 (and she, by that point, was not actually a relative anymore). In that decade it was lamented that, in the family supposed to represent the bulwark of British integrity, three of her four children had divorced. Now, though, two have happily remarried while the third has seemingly reconciled with his former spouse.

Furthermore, the institution she represents has generally been stable – whereas Charles

Having been head of state in so many countries for so many years (with the result of featuring on so many coins, notes and stamps), Her Majesty has the most reproduced face in all of human history.