(Or so I thought. ’Twas really 5am… which was in a way, only 4am)
When in London, do as the Royals do.
On Easter Sunday, that means attending mass at Windsor Palace’s St. George Chapel.
Daylight Savings Time occurred at 1am on Easter Sunday in the UK. Somehow, I over-changed my clock, setting it two hours forward and leaving me an hour ahead of schedule. Anticipation for the day’s events was so high I barely slept the night before, never mind knocking off two hours of sleep in the process. Rising before dawn, I got dressed in my (backpacker’s) Sunday best, put on an extra bit of makeup, downed three cups of coffee and two hot crossed buns, and boarded a train. First to London’s Paddington Station, and from there to the town of Windsor. I arrived at the Queen’s palace shortly after 9am with no exact plan but one specific mission: to see The Queen.
The sun was shining and my coffee had kicked in. It was going to be a good day.
Entrance to the castle was closed until 1pm. Four hours from my arrival time. It was too long to wait, and I had a feeling Her Majesty would be gone before I would be allowed to enter.
My camera in hand, a flowing skirt and long opened sweater with socks and ballet flats, I had the appearance of an artistic maiden. The slightly out of control hairstyle played a significant role as well.
“A member of the press, are you?” one of the castle’s guardsmen asked.
I hesitated, then replied with honest enthusiasm, “No. But I want to see the Queen.”
“You can attend service and sit opposite her, but otherwise you’ll have to wait until 1 o’clock when the public is allowed in.”
“I would like to attend the service then. Really? I can go?” I responded.
“Yes, just this way.” he said, pointing me to the gate where six cloaked guards were waiting to check bags and swipe security wands over guests.
This is it. I’m going to see the Queen.
I took some photographs, sent my bag through security, and continued past much of the castle’s stoney walls and pained glass windows. In one window, I stopped and let out a loud laugh at a corgi stuffed animal perched just-so as to watch passerby’s in a traditional royal way.
The Queen, as I’m told, has been Mother to over 14 Corgis of her own throughout the years.
Once I arrived at St. George’s Cathedral, I noticed a long white rope near signs saying “Keep off the Grass.”
A few men and women stood in a cluster on the forbidden lawn, huddled together to keep in any warmth left from their previous night’s slumber. I had intended to enter into the church, but stopped to ask a young woman why she and the others were waiting there.
“We’re waiting for the Queen’s arrival,” she told me.
“So if I wait here, I’ll be able to see here for sure?” I clarified, trying not to sound too excited.
“Yes,” she said, “but you won’t be able to attend the service.”
Acknowledging that I really didn’t mind missing the service, I ducked under the white rope and onto the verboten grass. It seemed like an optimal spot to set up camp while waiting for her planned 10am arrival. I had a view of the chapel’s driveway, parking spaces, entrance and exit.
Then one of the red-cloaked guardsmen came to my side and asked again if I was part of the press. I hesitated this time, then smiled and shook my head no.
“Not a problem, Miss,” he assured me, “if you could please scoot this way. Where you’re standing is a restricted area reserved for members of the press.”
He pointed to a space not two meters away and asked that I stand there instead. Giggling at my luck to have chosen such a nearly perfect place as well as at the slow realization that perhaps this dream really would come true, I shuffled a lick to the left. From there, I had exactly the same view as before and was able to watch the sun’s shadow shrink by the minute on the ground ahead of me as it rose higher in the sky behind.
Ten minutes turned to twenty and the media’s saved space remained empty. Minutes before 10am, the chapel’s organ began to play. Members of the community moved quickly to the chapel’s front door. Their dress ranged from jeans and sneakers to pressed skirts and shining stilettos.
Behind me, a few families exited from gated archways marked “Private”. Each of these families was dressed elegantly in suits or pastels, escorted by guards, and led to the chapel via a private entrance.
The Media Arrives.
Shortly after 10am, as the organ’s tunes continued, to my right a flourish of activity caught my eye.
’Twas the media.
Six, maybe seven, men and women hustled to the roped-off space, their large camera bags and lenses each more expensive than all my worldly possessions combined. They stood in a cluster on the forbidden grass, speaking in hurried words. Easter morning sun had clearly sent an energy through each of them, increasing with each inch the golden rays rose over the castle’s roofs.
After they’d calmed, I asked the man to my right for the time.
“Twenty after ten.” he said after glancing at his iPhone.
“And the service begins…”
“At 11. The Queen should arrive shortly before.”
I then began to dig my nose deeper into a space it didn’t need to be, asking question after question about how he was selected to be the only videographer allowed on Windsor Grounds this particular day.
“BBC, CNN, Telegraph… many international companies have hired me to come. The Palace only allows one videocamera per event, so all these news sources will edit and use my footage for their broadcasts.”
He proudly told me he’d been working in such a manner for twenty years and thoroughly enjoyed his line of work, as he was assigned to anything and everything under the sun.
He asked what brought me to the palace, and I told him as briefly and innocently as possible. “I was in town visiting friends from home who were here on holiday. Instead of leaving when they left, I decided to enjoy London’s Easter Traditions. I realized the Royal Family spent Easter morning each year at St. George’s Chapel, and know I must come. Might as well try to see The Queen, right?!”
“Of course,” he said, “Well, Welcome to Windsor! I don’t know the Royal Family so well, but these other photographers are basically assigned to follow the Royals around. When you see them start to shoot, follow their lead.”
I did just that, and was amazed at my own ability to catch shots of Princes and Princesses, Lords, Ladies and Earls. Harry, William, Charles, Camilla, Kate, Charlotte and George were otherwise preoccupied (William is engaged in Kenyan affairs while Harry is at work in Nepal at the moment), but a whole slew of relatives still joined Her Majesty at mass that morning.
I’ll introduce you to the attendees quickly:
Queen Elizabeth: THE QUEEN. Enough said, yes?
Prince Philip: Though bearing the title of ‘Prince’ is actually the Queen’s husband
Princess Anne: Only daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Sister to Prince Charles (and Andrew and Edward)
Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie of York: Who funny enough both live in NEW York today. Daughters of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and Sarah, Duchess of York (the redheaded woman famous for her many public appearances, including QVC). Granddaughters of the Queen and cousins of Prince Harry and Prince William.
Prince Edward: Youngest child of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
Sophie, Countess of Wessex: Prince Edwards’s wife and a descendent of Henry IV of England
Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn: Children of Prince Edward and Sophie (note: James, Viscount Severn’s name really does include the comma. Really. And Lady Louise Windsor was herself walking through Windsor palace this fine day.)
The Royal family included others, but I’m sure you’ve lost interest by now, so I’ll continue.
They all arrived in their Sunday best, the women in perfectly positioned hats and the men in freshly polished Oxfords. All battled the winds, which were quickly picking up in speed and potency.
The church’s priest and two others (please, if you know, tell me what to call them!) stood waited outside in canary yellow and royal red with the Royal Family, as well as a man and woman in navy blue suits. Just as the two in blue walked briskly up the hill toward the main road (“Police,” Mr. CNN videographer informed me), a group of four cars arrived. All four were a deep maroon brown color with a single driver situated on the right. The final car slowed and let us all catch a glimpse of a woman with white curly hair and a yellow brimmed hat. A petite man approached and opened her forward-facing door. Out popped the Queen. She held on tightly to her hat as to not lose it due to the brisk gusts and was immediately followed into the chapel by the rest of her family.
I, along with all those standing beside me, was shocked at how quickly it had all happened. She’d come and gone in the wink of an eye and even the BBC videographer was stunned at how few moments she had allowed us.
We all gathered, the twenty or so of us who’d opted to wait outside rather than enter into the service.
“Now what do we do?” one of them asked over the service’s preachings, which we could hear loud and clear.
“We find cover!” somebody responded. He pointed at the dark sky quickly approaching. As we all looked, a sharp bolt of lightning cut the clouds in half. Within minutes, rain was pouring down in sheets. Reporters struggled to cover their collections of cameras, lenses, and computers. The rest ran straight off the palace grounds. Never mind seeing The Queen post-service: for most, survival mode kicked in and high-tailing it out the gates meant saying goodbye to Her Highness for the day. No one who left would be allowed back in.
So there I stood. Me and ten others. For one hour, a few of us endured the down pour. Most umbrellas gave up straight away with the gale force winds, and the rest were rendered useless. I was soaked. We were all soaked. My skirt was stuck to my otherwise bare legs, turning rose pink from the cold air. My early morning attempt at applying makeup had been more or less wiped away, and my hair… well, you know.
One man sat on the rope in absolute stillness as the rain poured upon his childlike umbrella, and three young women winced as their homemade sign slowly turned to much and blew away piece by piece.
The rain continued. It was harder than any I ever expected to fall from London’s skies. Nearby, trees were splitting and even brick walls were falling, stopping inner-city rail services literally in their tracks.
But still we stood.
“For the Queen!” someone would shout every so often in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“For the Queen!” we’d all respond, making a ‘cheers’ motion with our tightly clenched fists.
The clouds clear
The church service lasted from 11am until noon. At 11:55, give or take twenty seconds, the sky cleared and the sun readied itself for the Queen’s reemergence. A young girl stood where chapel meets street and held a bouquet of yellow flowers. Her mother waited around the corner, keeping one eye on her daughter and the other on the chapel’s door. The entire congregation emptied from the church and many chose to stick around, wondering how the ground under their feet could be soaked when the skies were so obviously blue.
What lucky souls they were. It was truly an amazing site, to witness the skies change so rapidly and so in sync with the service. Some said it was the Queen bringing with her a dark cloud to wash the press away, others said it was Mother Nature holding off to wish Her Highness the very best.
The Queen pulls a (very) fast one on us
No one knew from which door The Queen would exit, but we all speculated. Even the policemen were unsure. Should we focus our attention left or right?
We all decided – right- as is traditional of Her Majesty (said the Royal Press).
There was a commotion made by the top two security guards, and everyone ran right.
Then a shout, “There!” and everyone turned left.
Of course she would exit left when we thought right!
Cameras exploded in repetitive clicks and eager onlookers gleefully shouted “Happy Easter” in her direction.
“Thank you, Your Highness!”
Still smiling, her car door was opened and she stepped inside. As she slowly pulled away, the face of a ninety year old woman leading the world in longevity and loveliness was etched into our lenses and minds.
“That’s a wrap!” one of the reporters called out.
Those there on assignment pulled out their computers, sat down on tiny folding stools, and immediately got to work. They edited, wrote, and sent off their finest photos to be immediately released to the public.
I waved goodbye and wished them each a Happy Easter.Then I slowly walked away.
Disbelief with a Chocolate Egg
I had found her: The Queen of England. Alongside here Princesses, Princes, Ladies and Lords.
In shock, I walked from Windsor Castle and went to see the city. Cadbury Eggs were for sale in a supermarket off the main square. I picked one (or three) up, paid a pound, and walked back into the sun. Sinking my teeth into chocolatey creamy goodness, they were the only sign that I was in fact still living in a real world.
The Easter Bunny, of course, I can believe in. The Queen of England and her Royal Family? This was just too good to be true.
Want to see the Queen in action (and catch a glimpse of Anika as well?! Watch the video below!