Fresh from a week off to recover from my royal wedding trip, I had returned to the office on June 4th with a metaphorical grey cloud hanging above me, wondering when there would ever be such breathtakingly beautiful occasion to look forward to, as much as I did the Royal Wedding, again.
That very afternoon, as if to answer my silent prayer to the royal watching gods, my Kensington Palace Twitter notification pinged and my days of gloom were behind me.
A double feature. A Queen and a Duchess, in my neck of the woods!
Not just any Duchess. Our newest and most avant-garde Duchess to date! The Duchess of Sussex!
Seeing them step off the Royal train together at Runcorn station (via a twitter live feed, as I was already in position at Chester!) was particularly poignant. I felt for the first time, that I genuinely saw a glimmer of trepidation on the face of the usually calm and confident Duchess.
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The Queen stepped forward to greet her awaiting dignitaries as she has done so many times over her expansive 66 years as Monarch. Looking ever so slightly tentative, Meghan greeted them in turn. An obvious shift had just taken place. Understanding that she is now in a supporting role, she was clearly mindful that her every step will be closely scrutinized and I cannot imagine the pressure she must have felt under at that moment.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that Bentley during the drive to the first engagement of the day at the Mersey Gateway Bridge opening. I have no idea of what may have been said between the two Royal ladies in that car, but a different more relaxed Duchess emerged. The images of the two sat enjoying a performance by a local dance group gave arguably the most delightful pictures of the day. Never a more relaxed and happy picture was painted. The ladies clearly entertained by the piece, smiling broadly and whispering to each other with a familiarity and genuine affection that was unmistakable.
Meanwhile, roughly 20 miles away, I had found my spot in Chester town centre right on the edge of the end of the walkabout zone, near to the Town Hall.
When I attend a royal engagement, I do so with a plan, a backup plan, and my right-hand man (The Husband) as the backup photographer. Having recce’d the area closely via the wonder of Google Maps earlier in the week, I was fairly confident I had a decent spot in mind. A tried and tested formula of mine for good royal spotting potential, is to hang as close to a) a group of school children or b) the press within the crowd.
Traffic on the motorway journey meant that a front row was not going to be likely for me at this event and so I had to scope the crowds for a relatively good looking spot with all the right criteria.
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My chosen area was less heavily populated and so I parked myself behind a small child who was front row and the crowd soon gathered volume around me. Two hours of being crammed in, and a local school party managed to squeeze some of their students in front of us. Many who had waited there for longer than I was slightly miffed at this infiltration, but I smiled sweetly knowing this would secure a royal stop.
Once the Royal Party had left the Storeyhouse Theatre, they ventured into the gathered crowds to start the meet and greet.
I thought that it was unlikely that we would see the familiarity and touchy-feeliness of Meghan’s previous engagements and I did suspect that it would be more of a smile and wave type of walkabout.
But I was pleasantly surprised at the sight of The Duchess still shaking hands warmly and enthusiastically with as many people as she could. It was, however, noticeably quicker than her usual style and she moved through the crowds at a markedly faster pace than we have seen before. I was so taken in by her – even from across the road, that I barely even realised that Her Majesty The Queen was standing not two paces in front of me taking some handcrafted paper flowers from the previously mentioned schoolchildren. I whipped my camera phone around just in time to capture a beautiful smile as she examined the homemade objects before passing them back to her lady in waiting.
I think I remember from last years Radio One interview that Prince William said in response to the question “what do you buy the Queen?” that George and Charlotte often make Granny craft type presents and that those things usually “go down well” with The Queen, and that certainly seemed to be the case today. (Note for future events – take a small child with a handcrafted item to guarantee royal stoppage.)
Seconds later she looked me in the eye, nodded a gesture of hello, smiled and slowly moved on as I stood open-mouthed all the time trying to formulate a well-rehearsed sentence that sounded like “Welcome to Chester Your Majesty” but actually just sounded more like “mmehhh”… I was speechless. She was so small and so fragile looking. But yet the sovereignty and power that she emanated just took my breath away.
Over the other side of the road, The Duchess had also stopped to speak with some gathered children and sadly, she was then required to join Her Majesty for the final walk towards the town hall steps.
I mentioned in my previous piece that as much as the Duchess was there in Chester to learn some royal ropes from Her Majesty, I thought perhaps, Her Majesty may well learn a thing or two from Meghan. A bold statement, I know. And perhaps also an unpopular one. But I know I saw a very happy Queen on Thursday.
She was there in Chester to promote “brand monarchy” and boy, between them, did they deliver. The cheers from the crowds as they waved from the town hall steps told her all she needed to know about the popularity of our newest family member and I know she learnt that Meghan was going to be a valuable asset in the Monarchy’s never-ending quest for popularity. As much as we view monarchy as above celebrity, you cannot help but be drawn in by Meghan’s obvious warmth and natural geniality. And perhaps Her Majesty feels the same.
The Queen undoubtedly gave Meghan a whirlwind of typical royal engagements, meant to emphatically demonstrate that her new royal role won’t always be a glamorous mix of high society tiara functions and the glory of humanitarian endeavours she may be expecting.
She showed her the reality of curtain pulling on a windswept stage in Widnes. She showed her how to handle a crowd of flower waving well-wishers effectively and efficiently. She showed which side of a car to get into and in what order. She showed Meghan that there is a skilled art to walking in heels on the cobbled streets of northern England!
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Meghan undoubtedly learnt a lot that day. But I can safely say that The Queen also learnt at least one thing that day. That our new Duchess of Sussex is going to do just fine.