Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - Tributes (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 9 September 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench 5:00, 9 September 2022

My Lords, I wish to pay my deepest respects to the extraordinary life of Her Majesty the Queen. Her unstinting support and knowledge of the sporting landscape was formidable. She always asked gently challenging questions about personal performances and the team—none of the bland “Are you happy you won?” or “Are you sad you lost?” She made everyone feel special and cherished, regardless of their performance.

In my career as an athlete, I competed at three Commonwealth Games. The Queen’s attendance at the opening or closing ceremonies, or at the events, provided the magic fairy dust for the event. More than the athlete parade on home soil, her speech was the moment when the Games began. She was the guiding light we wanted to live up to.

In 2002 at the Games in Manchester, who can forget Kirsty Howard and David Beckham handing over the baton to the Queen? The Queen’s baton relay this year was an amazing event; thousands of people took part, and many thousands more came to watch, sometimes waiting for hours on a little part of a road just to see it go past. Listening to some of the stories of how the individuals came to be nominated was moving and emotional, but they all shared one thing: their pride in being part of something special, and feeling a connection to her.

Who can forget the wonderful way she arrived at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games? Before Paddington, there was James Bond. It was such a closely guarded secret; all I knew was that we had to wait and see. I was in the stadium that night. I remember sitting in a crowd of 60,000 people as that moment of realisation dawned: “That looks a bit like Buckingham Palace—it is Buckingham Palace. That looks a bit like the Queen—it is the Queen”. At the moment she turned and said, “Mr Bond”, the atmosphere was electric. No one was prepared for the helicopter or the parachute jump, but it showed an innate sense of humour.

A few years before that was the bidding process for the 2012 Games. I believe the Queen had an enormous impact on that. As noble Lords might imagine, there are many rules for the bidding process for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The evaluation commission is allowed to attend only one reception. Four other cities bidding for the Games gave huge, grand receptions with hundreds of people. But it was always London’s intention to do something different. The Queen hosted an intimate dinner at Buckingham Palace, which I was privileged to attend. It allowed the evaluation commission some time away from the public eye, and I and others who were part of the bid believed it played a significant role in the eventual victory.

Her commitment to sport was not just about attending events. After major Games—Olympics and Paralympics —receptions were held at Buckingham Palace to which all team members were invited, and other members of the Royal Family were there. After one such reception after the Sydney Games, I was introduced to Her Majesty. Initially, my mother was delighted because the day after a picture was published in a national newspaper of me and the Queen together—until my mother looked at my shoes. Well, my purple boots. She deemed them entirely unsuitable and robustly told me how unsuitable they were. At the end of my telling off, she said “What will the Queen think of me because you wore those shoes?” There are times when there is simply nothing to say except “Sorry”—except I said, “I don’t think the Queen is thinking of you”. My dad shook his head, walked away from me and said, “You’re on your own with that one”.

Actually, I wanted not to disappoint either my mother or the Queen in equal measure. We learn many lessons in life; the lesson I learned from that is that sometimes you just need to learn when to be quiet. A couple of days later, my mother decided to forgive me and very proudly showed anyone who wanted to see—and many who did not—the picture of me, but with the offending boots folded out of it and a hand covering them. I am not sure that anyone else noticed I was wearing those boots.

The Queen’s presence at sporting events, or indeed any event, simply raised people’s spirits. The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham earlier this year was an amazing event. Many athletes wished she could have been there; sadly, it was not to be, but everyone understood why. However, the then Prince of Wales did a sterling job, balancing ceremony with compassion. He set exactly the right tone for the successful Games they became, which the sporting community will be ever grateful for in difficult times. It meant so much to everyone. Long live the King.