19 April 2024

My family’s small part in the Queen’s early life

These are strange times to be a local newspaper editor.

We all knew the day would come at some point, but nevertheless it was still a huge shock when the Queen’s death was announced last Thursday.

I was working from home that day, and I’d put the BBC News channel on about 10.30am. Then, around lunchtime, came the news that there were serious concerns for Her Majesty’s health.

There had been stories before about when she was feeling under the weather and had to give up engagements, but this immediately felt different. As the day went on, and the tone became ever more sombre, it wasn’t long before I was frantically messaging all and sundry to prepare for the inevitable.

But I have a Queen story of my own I’d like to share with you, although I guess it’s technically a Princess Elizabeth story.

My Austrian-born grandmother, who is 94 herself, was in Kenya in winter 1952 with my grandfather, who was working as a radio officer at Nairobi Airport.

They had met in Vienna not long after the war, as my grandfather had been a radio operator in the RAF and then a radio officer at Vienna Airport.

They were later posted to east Africa, where Nan became pregnant with my mum, and a couple of days after my mum was born on January 30, 1952, Princess Elizabeth paid a visit to what was then known as the Princess Elizabeth Hospital for Women in Nairobi.

My nan was still on the ward, with a number of other women, the newborn babies all having been moved to a separate room. The princess made her way through the ward, smiling as she went.

“She was lovely, and very shy,” says my nan, “and she was wearing a pretty pink dress.”

Then, a couple of days later, came the sad news that Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, had died suddenly, aged just 56 – and that shy 25-year-old princess had now become Queen. She and Prince Philip had to cut short their trip and leave for London at once.

It wasn’t the last time that my nan would set eyes on the Queen, though.

She tells me that, a few years later, when the young Queen was on a visit to Hull and East Yorkshire, her Royal car was passing through Willerby, where my nan has lived for more than 60 years.

My nan, who was walking with her second daughter in her pram, looked up – and there was Her Majesty, smiling back at her. It was a fleeting moment, but one that has stayed with my nan all these decades.