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The Queen’s 1994 visit sees awkward moments and light touches

Official duty: a Bermuda Regiment officer escorts the Queen as she inspects an honour guard in King's Square (File photograph)

On arrival for a two-day visit on March 8, 1994, hundreds greeted the royal couple at what was still the Civil Air Terminal, where the Queen surprised many by making an impromptu stop to talk to the crowds of children assembled by the gate.

Bermuda was an even more different place by this time, with international business supplanting tourism as our major industry, seeing larger buildings erected in Hamilton and generating millions in revenue.

The 1977 riots after the hangings for the assassinations, had forced Bermuda to either unite, or face the abyss.

A Royal Commission, pointedly chaired by the second Black British Peer, Lord Pitt of Hempstead, had made several recommendations in 1978 on creating a more inclusive society and promotion of education; Bermuda was in the middle of nearly three decades of economic boom.

By 1994 the presence of a permanent Royal Navy base, US Navy and Canadian Forces bases were set to close or were in negotiation to close — with HMS Malabar’s decommissioning meaning the end of a presence that had spanned three centuries.

Again, upon arrival the Queen and the Duke made a point of stopping to talk to children before moving on to their next engagement.

The Queen’s Press Officer, Charles Anson, said: “As far as the Queen is concerned, part of the purpose of these visits is to meet as many people as possible, not simply the leaders of the country.”

Her itinerary included a visit to Tucker House in St George’s, to see its new archaeological exhibit.

At a special dinner at what was then the Southampton Princess, she surprised everyone by touching on the subject of race during a speech about how much Bermuda had changed.

Her wrist bandaged after a recent fall from a horse, she said: “Black people have taken the lead in many areas of national life, politics, the judiciary and the police to name a few.”

She also remarked on the surge of international business since her visit in 1975.

Lord Waddington, the Governor, met the couple and then introduced them to the Premier, Sir John Swan, and other dignitaries.

The Queen took the salute from the Bermuda Regiment Band before meeting MPs and the Chief Justice, Sir Austin Ward.

During the surprise stop the Queen accepted flowers from a number of children, including 11-year-old Kelly DeSilva, who handed over a bunch of freesia.

Kelly said: “She asked if they were for her and told me it was very kind. I don’t know what I’ll tell my mother.”

Kelly was part of a group of children from the Mount Saint Agnes Environment Group, set up to teach students about “green matters”.

Also in the crowd was Ann Smith Gordon, who designed commemorative stamps for the visit.

Ms Gordon said of her invitation to the private dinner at Government House: “It is the most exciting invitation of my life!”

Riding in the Governor’s Daimler with four police riders in white uniforms in front and behind, the couple set off for St George’s.

An estimated two to three thousand people gave the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh a rousing welcome to a sun-kissed King’s Square.

Schoolchildren armed with mini Union Flags had the best vantage point — just in front of the security barriers.

A huge roar went up as the Queen and the Duke stepped from the limousine, and were introduced to local VIPs.

Among the group were Henry Hayward, the Mayor of St George, and area opposition MPs Leon “Jimmy” Williams and Jennifer Smith, a future premier and dame.

Present as well were United Bermuda Party MP Rick Spurling, and his wife, Jane.

The Queen entered the Town Hall and signed the visitors’ book. Another cheer rang out as she walked around the square.

Meeting royalty outside the Town Hall will also be etched for ever in the memory of Mr Spurling.

“She asked me what exactly were we representatives of, and I explained to her about St George’s Parish and the two constituencies. The Duke then asked if we lived in the town.

“When I said we lived within the parish, he replied ‘I bet you don’t have to pay corporation tax’.”

Mr Spurling recalled a royal quip when he and the two Progressive Labour Party MPs, Mr Williams and Ms Smith, were introduced to the Duke. “He said ‘please don’t have a fight right now’.”

At Tucker House, the Queen was greeted by National Trust president David L. White and Trust director Amanda Outerbridge, who introduced her to Maud Carlington, chief guide at Tucker House and Hugh Davidson, chairman of the Trust’s museum committee.

Inside, the Queen signed the visitors’ book, toured the main rooms, the kitchen and the Trust’s new archaeological exhibit in the basement, where she was introduced to architect Henry Ming, chairman of the Trust’s historic buildings committee.

Mr White then escorted the Queen out a side door to the garden, where he introduced her to National Trust staff.

“The Queen was very interested in the house,” Mr White said later. “She was very interested in the Tucker family, the architecture, the portraits and Bermudian furniture.”

While the Queen continued to tour the historic Old Towne, Prince Philip headed for the Biological Station, and the latest in high-tech communications.

Watched by about 100 children from island schools, aged 10 to 15, he took part in a live link-up with scientists with the Robert Ballard’s Jason Project, in Belize, and tested the new technology of remotely operated underwater vehicle.

The Duke, president of the World Wildlife Fund, was commended by Dr Ballard for his work to help protect the world’s rainforests.

“This sort of project ought to help,” the Duke said.

He was then taken to the Bio Station dock for a tour of its research ship, Weatherbird I, and equipment used in global warming studies.

The station’s Tony Michaels, a global warming specialist, was also on board for the visit.

“He had some good questions,” Dr Michaels said. “He seems [to be] aware of a lot of the issues we’re addressing, especially coral reefs.”

Organisers of the 1994 Speaker’s Dinner, in the Atlantic Room at the Southampton Princess, in honour of the Queen, were praised for their attention to detail.

This even extended to light-hearted touches like swan-shaped canapés and a Bermuda Triangle-shaped first course.

But one detail was missing: a fanfare from the Bermuda Regiment was scheduled for the royal couple’s arrival.

The trumpeters assembled with faultless precision, but stayed silent.

The regiment’s adjutant, Captain Henry Simpson, said the missing fanfare was not the fault of the band members.

“It was an unfortunate mix-up with timings. The signal was not given for the fanfare to be played, and before the men knew it, the royal couple were in.”

Who should have given the signal, then?

“I really don’t know,” said Captain Simpson, perhaps diplomatically.

In the lead-up to her 44 hours on island, a problem arose concerning what was seen as an unflattering portrait hanging in City Hall.

Commissioned in the mid-1980s by W.F. “Chummy” Hayward, and presented to the Corporation of Hamilton, the painting by Curtis Hooper, a Canadian, the Bermuda Society of Arts called it “an artistic disappointment”.

Anonymous art patrons told The Royal Gazette: “How could they possibly ask the Queen to look at that awful thing? Everybody loathes it” and “Quite honestly, I think it’s a pretty awful thing. It’s cadaverous.”

John Swan, the Premier, surprised more than Her Majesty by making a much criticised pitch for independence during his after-dinner speech before 500 guests at that most formal of occasions — the Speaker’s Dinner, which was held at the Southampton Princess Hotel.

Trained from childhood never to flinch, wince or weep in public, the Queen maintained a stoic silence as her host told her it was time for Bermuda to shuck its British colonial ties and go it alone.

The story, of course, was meat to the potatoes of covering a royal tour for the foreign press, and the ripples cast by this stone spread far beyond the bounds of Bermuda.

At the same event, former governor Sir Edwin Leather discovered, to his sorrow, that his miniature set of medals was missing.

It included three decorations presented by the Queen, as well as others from his Canadian army war service in Britain and Europe.

These calamities at the Speaker’s Dinner were, however, the lone flies in an otherwise unsullied honeypot of sweetness and light, and during their 44hr 30min stay the royal duo happily fulfilled a packed itinerary which gave them practically nothing but bath and bedtime out of the limelight.

During the visit, the Queen also bestowed her New Year Honours on ten recipients, including Court of Appeal judge Sir James Astwood.

The next day, as temperatures climbed into the mid-70s, the Bermudian welcome was equally warm wherever the royals went.

The first duty of the day, the planting of yet another tree on Government House grounds, was followed by a trip to City Hall for culture and coffee.

The couple’s visit to the Will Onions-designed edifice included a reception in his parlour by the mayor, William Frith, and members of the Corporation of Hamilton, and subsequent visits to the Bermuda National Gallery by the Queen and to the Bermuda Society of Arts Gallery by the Duke.

Alleged plans to quietly remove from royal gaze the large, unflattering portrait of the monarch hanging on the stairs of City Hall were apparently scuppered by an earlier leak from this newspaper.

It is reported that it caught her gaze on the way out, and the Queen’s smile was replaced with an expression of “bemused wonderment” and “a lingering backward glance”.

While the Duke proceeded on foot to view restoration work at the Anglican Cathedral and have coffee with Bishop William Down, the Queen toured the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, where she charmed patients, medical staff and spectators alike.

A surprise line-up of Welsh corgis as she departed the hospital grounds prompted an unscheduled stop of the official car, a winding-down of its window, and a beaming royal thank-you from within.

A joint tour of the Bermuda College campus concluded with a luncheon at the Stonington Beach Hotel.

The Duke then presented awards named after him, while the Queen motored to Ireland Island North — the former site of the Royal Naval Dockyard and HMS Malabar — to visit ongoing restoration work at Commissioner’s House and receive a set of commemorative gold coins from the Bermuda Monetary Authority.

The couple then headed a motorcade along Front Street to the Botanical Gardens in Paget for a display of the performing arts presented by eight groups including the National Dance Theatre of Bermuda, the Portuguese Cultural Association folklore dancers, the Bermuda Majorette Drill and Drum Corps, and the H&N Gombey Crowd.

The sovereign marked the end of her visit by presenting at Government House her personal Royal Victorian Orders to local tour organisers and dignitaries, including her host, Lord Waddington, and former Cabinet Secretary Kenneth Richardson.

After formal goodbyes at the Civil Air Terminal, a Royal Air Force VC10 bore the Queen away under rainy skies, while the Duke of Edinburgh returned to Government House for a few more hours before leaving for the Bahamas.

It fell to the Deputy Governor, John Kelly, to announce that the royals had “found Bermuda an excellent end to their overseas tour”.

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Published September 09, 2022 at 7:31 am (Updated September 08, 2022 at 9:23 pm)

The Queen’s 1994 visit sees awkward moments and light touches

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