Remembering lunch with the Queen

Linda Hooper reports: 

I am sure that many Living Choice residents have a story to share about their interaction with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. If so, we would love to hear from you. To get the ball rolling, I thought I would share the story of my “lunch with the Queen” – a precious hour that will always hold a special place in my heart.

There are moments when the world seems to stop and you instinctively know that life will never be the same again. The assassination of John F Kennedy, Princess Diana’s fatal car crash, the death of Nelson Mandela and the news that the Queen had passed away. For some reason, I had thought she would live to be 100.

The Queen and Prince Phillip visited South Africa in March 1995, 10 months after Nelson Mandela was elected President. Her itinerary included an official lunch at the Royal Hotel in Durban, hosted by the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Frank Mdlalose and King Goodwill Zwelithini. As the Editor of the second biggest weekly community newspaper at the time, I received an invitation to attend the lunch.

The invitation was for two people and I had no hesitation in inviting our Senior Reporter, Sheila Park, to accompany me. Sheila was an ardent Royalist and she agonised about which outfit and hat to wear to the lunch. During the 90-minute drive to Durban, she gave me a stern lecture about what to do and how to curtsy to the Queen!

On arrival at the hotel, we were ushered into a wide corridor leading to the dining room and told to line up. I had been very casual about the whole experience until then but when the Queen arrived and started to walk towards us, my heart was thumping with excitement.

Although she did not stop to chat to us, she walked slowly, acknowledging us all. I remember thinking how beautiful she looked - and that smile!

Inside the dining room, our table was located directly opposite the VIP Table so Sheila and I were within metres of the Queen for the next hour. She had the King on one side and the Premier on the other and we noticed how she spent the same amount of time in conversation with each one. We also noticed how she sampled a little of everything on her plate. Even though she had many engagements that day and most involved the serving of food, I am sure she did not want to disappoint the Royal Hotel’s chef.

Many years later, when Sheila was dying of emphysema, I visited her in South Africa and she recalled how that day was one of the happiest days of her life. I have to agree – it was an amazing experience that I will treasure forever. Rest in peace, Your Majesty and thank you for lighting up so many lives, including that of my dear friend Sheila.