The Queen's man on the ground

So many thank-you notes, so many flowers—a royal tour requires a master planner

Chris Jackson/GETTY IMAGES

The driving rain that greeted the Queen in Halifax on June 28, at the start of her nine-day visit to Canada, subsided, as if by royal fiat, into a light mist for the welcoming ceremony at Garrison Grounds. Elizabeth II wore a practical raincoat and carried a yellow-trimmed umbrella that perfectly matched her hat, but otherwise she and Prince Philip more or less ignored the inclement weather as they toured a Mi’kmaq cultural village on the Halifax Common to mark the 400th anniversary of the baptism of grand chief Henri Membertou, the first native baptized in Canada. All eyes were on the pair as they gamely strolled through the soggy park. The crowds likely didn’t even notice the grey-haired man trailing a few paces behind: Kevin MacLeod, the lively Cape Bretoner who is the Canadian secretary to the Queen and who has helped to orchestrate her visits here since 1987.

Royal tours are studies in strategic planning. This one, the Queen’s 22nd as monarch, has been more than a year in the making. Stephen Harper first floated the idea during an audience with the Queen at last year’s G20 summit in London. Soon after, MacLeod and the Department of Canadian Heritage began fleshing out details, starting with creating an official theme: to honour “the Canadian record of service—past, present and future.”

Mere regal presence no longer constitutes a theme, MacLeod says. “We’re well beyond the days when a tour just involved cutting ribbons and receiving flowers.” Today, it must “carry a very strong message of relevancy.”

Thus, in keeping with the record-of-service theme, the sovereign reviewed an international fleet in Halifax to mark the 100th anniversary of the navy. And that evening she and Philip met local heroes of the unsung variety, the kind of people whose quiet efforts bind communities, yet rarely generate notice.

Speaking of unsung heroes, the credit for such graceful touches goes to the Canadian secretary. As the conduit between the palace, the Prime Minister’s Office and the provinces, he oversees every detail of the visit’s program. “We work closely with the RCMP, the Department of National Defence, Public Works, Health Canada, Transport Canada,” MacLeod says. “The size of the team that is required to deliver a royal visit is quite massive.”

But his role is central. He’s the guy who drafts the Queen’s speeches (she’s delivering four) and makes at least two trips to each site she’ll visit. Walk-throughs are incredibly—some might say mind-numbingly—detailed: “When elevators are taken, how many? Who’s in elevator A, B and C?” Yet MacLeod still sounds positively jaunty, even after weathering an official walk-through with the British delegation in April and subsequent weeks of “fine tuning, fine tuning, fine tuning.”

As recently as the week before the tour began, he was fielding about 30 emails a day from Buckingham Palace, nailing down minutiae so that every element of each day’s program could be recorded in a little book called the “Daily Sheets,” which he and other officials are carrying everywhere this week.

Nothing is left to chance, especially protocol. The Queen isn’t here as the British sovereign but as the Canadian head of state, so she departed Heathrow on a Canadian Forces jet. And, MacLeod explains, when the plane crosses into our airspace, “the Canadian secretary and police officer take over from their British counterparts.” Attention to detail is never-ending: although flowers given to the Queen are donated to local nursing homes and hospitals, he says, “If there are cards attached with text, she reads them. If there is a name and address, they’ll get a letter of thanks.”

It is too early to talk of a visit in 2012, when she celebrates 60 years on the throne, though the Queen herself raised hopes when she concluded her first speech: “It is very good to be home.” MacLeod, who chairs Canada’s Diamond Jubilee committee on top of his other job as the Senate’s usher of the Black Rod, points out that she will be 86 then, three years shy of the queen mother’s age when she undertook her final visit to Canada. “The genes are very similar,” he says. “We live in hope.”

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