Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - Tributes (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 9 September 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Sterling of Plaistow Lord Sterling of Plaistow Conservative 6:45, 9 September 2022

My Lords, several months ago I rang and had a chat to Helen Cross, personal private secretary to the Queen. I reminded her that more than 10 years ago, we had done something of a similar nature, and I wanted to know whether the Queen would be in favour. We have all the monarch’s palaces, and many people there, such as the gardeners, the sous chefs and the chambermaids, who have hardly even met members of the Royal Family, but certainly have not been involved in a major gathering to do something they might really enjoy. Last time, we did exactly the same: she went to the Queen and the Queen was very much in favour. They had a ballot among all the people working for the palaces—the lot—but not at a high level. These were the people doing the down-to-earth jobs.

Yesterday was the day they came on board to visit “Gloriana”, the Queen’s row barge, at Chelsea. We had a great turnout, and the Queen’s royal bargemaster and all her watermen rode her. They all had a turn inside it. We got together and exchanged views. I met somebody from Scotland, who was very much involved in the shooting and birdlife up there, who said he had never been to London before. Then I spoke to the gardener, who was explaining how the earth is very different for planting in Kensington from what it might be in London. It was a wonderful get-together.

One of the two seniors who accompanied them came over to me and said, “Would you mind if we leave early?” I said, “No,”—I realised there had been some news coming out—and he said, “We’ve really got to get back, because there will be a lot of communication.” But I cannot help thinking how, when all those people went home, they said, “Wonderful!”—they were grateful. I thank them all on our behalf for coming, and what did they go back to? To find that the person that they loved had died. I have to say it was quite extraordinary.

But then, on our own front, we had to decide regarding “Gloriana”, the Queen’s row barge: obviously, with what has transpired, there were various things we had to do. For argument’s sake, you have to get the flags down, you have to put black satin over it, and this morning, very early, at 6 o’clock, we got the whole thing together to go down the river, accompanied by the police, in order to get her back in readiness for the rest of what will transpire.

I personally have had the honour and the pleasure of running the Silver Jubilee, the Golden Jubilee, most of the Diamond Jubilee and for the most recent one I was a senior adviser, but we took part in many areas as to what was transpiring. I have to say that the reaction was quite extraordinary, and the most important part of all of them were the street parties—how people actually got together. If I think of anything that really mattered, it was that. Something that might amuse noble Lords was the occasion when Robin Janvrin, the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, said to me when we were coming up to that major concert in the Palace, which noble Lords might remember—this was in the Golden Jubilee—and he said, “I think you had better come along and have an audience with the Queen, to put her in the picture as to how it is going and where we are doing it. I suggest you come after 9 o’clock, because that is when they are going through the red boxes, et cetera, so if you could be there just before 10, then perhaps we could do it.”

So, I arrived at that time, I came in, bowed—everything was in that form—and I thought we were set to talk about it when the Queen got up and said, “No, no; I want you to come over to the windows.” I looked out of the windows and of course they had JCBs and everything digging up the gardens, taking so much soil out I cannot tell you what was going on in the gardens, and she was so upset, she was saying, “They’re ruining the gardens.” I said, “I think they will probably get them back in a reasonable state afterwards,” but it was just a great pleasure and an honour to be in that position. I also had the pleasure at P&O and Cunard when she came many times through her life for naming of some of the great ships.

Perhaps most important, as far as I am concerned, which my noble friend has already referred to, was Motability, which I co-founded with the late Lord Goodman. The Queen became, very early on, the chief patron. I know she has been president of umpteen charities, but for some reason—all noble Lords have spoken about how she was as a person—she really did get heavily involved and extremely interested in anything to do with the disabled and, of course, the veterans. At that time, it was an idea: we had only one car. Forty-five years afterwards, we had 6 million cars out, and there are 700,000-odd on the roads as we speak today, and I am sure that her involvement lifted our standing to those millions of families and their friends and the disabled, of course, to put them on the road to freedom. I have always felt, and we all felt, that this was something that was absolutely special.

Coming on to the last couple of points, one of the pleasures of our King is classical music—which is very much a part of my life—and he loves opera, ballet and all those areas. So I am quite sure that quite a lot of what will be happening will include that in a very major way, which gives me huge personal pleasure.

To finish, I will suggest the best tribute for all of us to give in memory of this wonderful person with this huge sense of duty. The oath we take here is to serve; that is what the Queen did all her life. I think the greatest long-term legacy we can give in her memory is for we parliamentarians to regain the trust of the people of this country. God save the King.