Many young stamp collectors, like myself, discovered who Queen Elizabeth was after constantly seeing her side portrait or silhouette on stamps from what seemed like everyplace in the world: from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to Malta, Tanganyika, Gold Coast, Bechuanaland, the Gilbert Islands, and Hong Kong. Crowned two years before I was born, it is amazing to reflect back to how many times I encountered something or someone having to do with the Queen. From living in one of her many realms – Barbados — for over two years to my first ever trip abroad to England in 1975, there was no getting away from the fact that Elizabeth was not only the Queen of England, but also of scores of other vestiges of the old empire. In addition, she was the head of the Commonwealth of Nations, many of which I had the occasion to visit after they had become republics. One could not but notice the high regard many of their citizens had for their former monarch or royal protector, whether it was in India, Cyprus, Uganda, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei, Sikkim, or Fiji.
The Queen’s photo and influence seemed omnipresent. There were the visits to injured fellow Navy personnel at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados, a keynote address to a data security conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center across from Westminster in London, a week inside Parliament House in Canberra as a member of a U.S. diplomatic delegation, lunch aboard a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel while it was transiting back to England from service in the Falklands War (where a ship’s mess aerial photo of the Falklands naval task force bore a photo of the Queen along with the sentence “The Empire Strikes Back”), and the opportunity to meet Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter, at a data protection conference dinner held in Manchester. I still remember the royal protocol officer telling guests in the receiving line: “for you gentlemen, please wait for Her Highness to extend her hand and shake it gently with the tips of your fingers and for ladies, just please curtsy.” I’m glad that after having a few pints before the soiree I didn’t get those protocol instructions mixed up.
Some of the stories about the Queen were conveyed by journalist colleagues who have long since passed on. In 1957, the Queen was making her first trip to New York, where she received a ticker tape welcome on Broadway. A friend of mine, George Fowler, a reporter for the New York Daily News, was instructed by his editor to grab the only available photographer, a cigar-chomping Italian guy, and head downtown to get some pictures. At the venue where the Queen was present, the photographer yelled to Her Majesty, who had her back turned, “hey Queenie, can you turn around so I can take your picture?” After the protocol people lifted their jaws from the ground, the newspaper eventually had to write a formal apology to the British embassy.
Those close to Elizabeth have said that she had a great sense of humor, so she might have been amused at the coarse manners of the photographer. However, one person Elizabeth had no time for was the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. At the G20 Summit in London in 2009, the Queen grew perturbed during a G20 leaders’ joint photo shoot when Berlusconi started shouting to get the attention of Barack Obama. She turned and said, “What is it? Why does he have to shout?” In 2019, when the Queen hosted Donald Trump on a state visit to Buckingham Palace, she did not invite the person she is rumored to have called “that horrid man” to stay at the Palace, which had provided room and board to the Obamas and George W. Bush and Laura Bush during their state visits. At the 2019 state banquet with Trump, the Queen made it a point to wear the pin Obama had given her as a gift during their visit. During one event, Prince Charles, now King Charles III, is seen scratching his nose with his middle finger pointed in Trump’s direction.
It says a lot about the Queen’s political views that she felt more comfortable with firebrand freedom fighters like Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Eric Williams, Michael Manley, and Cheddi Jagan than she did with reactionary fascists like Berlusconi and Trump. Perhaps it had something to do with her being a home defense volunteer in the Battle of Britain her father and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were waging against the fascist Axis at the time.
While doing research in the British Library in London, mailing letters at a Royal Post Office in England or Scotland, speaking at the London School of Economics, or going to see a film at the London Paladium Theater, portraits of the Queen were ever-present. And her portrait was often in my wallet, on English or Manx pound notes or Canadian, Australian, Eastern Caribbean, Bahamas, or New Zealand dollars.
While investigating the car collision that killed Princess Diana in 1997, I traveled to London and Paris. While I have good things to say about the Queen, those feelings do not extend to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died last year. Intelligence and law enforcement sources in the UK, Belgium, and France told me they believed Philip had something to do with Diana’s death to prevent an offspring of her and Egyptian Dodi Fayad ever having any “Muslim” claim to the throne of England. In 1992, in a speech marking her Ruby Jubilee on the throne, the Queen called the previous year an “annus horribilis.” It was wracked by marital scandals involving Charles, Andrew, and Anne, as well as a fire at Windsor Castle. Removing an “n” from “annus,” the Queen could have also been referring to the “horrible assholes” in her family, including Philip, Charles, Andrew (who would soon be consorting with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein), Camilla Parker-Bowles (the new Queen Consort), and Sarah Ferguson (“Fergie”).
I’ve never been a great fan of kings or queens, except in a winning hand of poker. However, it seems that Queen Elizabeth has been a part of my life ever since I was the age of 7 when I examined, with a cheap plastic magnifying glass, that first stamp bearing her likeness. With her death at the age of 96, it’s almost as if a part of my life died with her. And for that reason, I will, at the first opportunity, lift a pint of Guinness to her long reign and memory.
To the Queen! May she rest in peace.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).