My Lords, much has been rightly made of Her Majesty’s deep religious conviction. At the other end of the huge breadth of her character are her corgis and wonderful sense of humour. I draw from my own experience of her commitment to the Church of Scotland and her love of ponies, particularly the highland pony.
When she was at Balmoral, Crathie was her parish church and she worshipped there every Sunday. When she was at Holyrood, in Edinburgh, she worshipped at the parish church of Canongate Kirk. It was not just the routine of worship that inspired her feelings about the Church of Scotland; it was a deep interest in what the Church of Scotland was all about.
That was brought to my attention when I served for two years, at her request, as the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. My function was to represent Her Majesty at the beginning and end of a week when the Church met to discuss its affairs, and to attend the assembly every day for prayers as the week went on. I had the huge privilege of living in Holyrood Palace, effectively with the status of one below the Queen. I was known as “Your Grace” and, as soon as I went outside the door, the full national anthem was played—and no doubt there were some archers there as well.
It was a very demanding week, but even more demanding was the request, two or three weeks later, to report to Her Majesty in an audience of half an hour what the Church had been discussing in its General Assembly. It was a formidable undertaking, but it was suggested to me that the atmosphere would be lightened a bit if I could offer Her Majesty a present. But this raised the question: what present can you possibly give a Queen that she has never received before? Among the many charities she supported is the Highland Pony Society, of which she was patron. We have seen on many occasions her love of ponies as well as horses—particularly the Highland pony, which she bred at Balmoral with great success. My wife, who has ponies, suggested that we might make a cushion on which we would embroider the portrait of a pony—and that is what we did.
The next question is: how do you present the Queen with a cushion? I asked one of the people masterminding the audience how to do this. I asked him, “Will you hand the cushion to Her Majesty for me?” He said, “No, not at all, you must take it in yourself”. So I walked into the audience clutching a cushion under my arm, took the three steps forward, bowed and—I am afraid to say—blurted out, “Your Majesty, I have a present for you”. It was remarkable to see a lovely smile spread across her face, particularly when she saw what was on the cushion. “Ah, I must take this to Balmoral”, she said. So I felt that I had scored some success there.
However, the second year, I had to do the same again—give her a full report on what the Church had been doing—and we wondered what we should present this time. My wife said, “Well, last time it was a cushion with the pony facing one way, and it is always known that horses become very uneasy if they are on their own. Why don’t we give her a cushion with a horse facing the other way?” So that is what we did. For the second time, I went into the audience, stepped forward three times, bowed with the cushion and handed it forward. Again, a wonderful smile spread across her face. I suspect that we spent rather more time talking about ponies than we did about the Church of Scotland—but that is another matter. This time, she thanked me for it. Later on, it was reported to me that, at the end of the day’s business, she went into lunch clutching the cushion and said to everybody around the luncheon table, “Look what I’ve got”. It was typical of her that she entered into the fun of it. From the very beginning of the presentation of the cushion, there was this huge sense of fun and enjoyment that we had this little private engagement together about ponies and cushions.
I look back with enormous gratitude to these flashes of her sense of humour and her generous nature—which not many people are given at all, although some of us in this House have encountered it many times. I owe a particular thanks to her for appointing me to that office and for the way in which she received me when it was my turn to report on my duties. Of course we mourn her loss deeply, and we wish His Majesty King Charles III every success in the demanding life that he will now lead. I conclude my speech with the same words that have been mentioned earlier, His Majesty’s own words: “Simply, thank you”.