My Lords, one of the privileges of ambassadorial life was the relationship we had with the monarchy and with the Queen. We were proud to be members of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service. The Queen came to Paris when I was ambassador to unveil a statue to Sir Winston Churchill. Nothing could better have symbolised Britain or the relationship between Britain and France since the Second World War. The dignity with which the Queen performed her duties was a lesson to us all, British and French.
While the Queen was in Paris, I hosted a dinner for her in our embassy and, according to custom, proposed a rather pompous toast to the President of the French Republic and to Her Majesty the Queen. “What a nice couple,” she replied. It was that mixture of dignity and informality, at times almost irreverence, that was so captivating to millions in Britain and around the world.
In my last job at the Foreign Office, I had the extraordinary privilege to be at Her Majesty’s side when she received new ambassadors. The Queen had been doing this for about 50 years and loved it when things went slightly awry. I remember that a very distinguished ambassador arrived by carriage at Buckingham Palace and had forgotten his credentials. An ever-helpful equerry gave him a plain brown envelope and said, “Present this to Her Majesty and all will be well.” The rather nervous ambassador entered the room and presented the Queen with an empty plain brown envelope. The Queen was generously pleased to accept the empty plain brown envelope and said, with a dignified twinkle in her eye, “How very kind, ambassador”.
Those are two anecdotes, but for us diplomats the privilege of representing the Queen was real. We all knew the immensely positive influence she had and could have on our relations with other countries and that is why, as ambassadors, we all wanted the Queen to come to visit us because we knew that would have a hugely positive impact on our relations with the country concerned. Nothing can replace the 70 years of service of Her Majesty the Queen to the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and other countries in the world, and nothing can replace the affection and respect with which she was held by millions in this country and around the world.