The nightmare for royal tour organizers is how easily months of exquisitely precise planning can unravel, especially when obvious problems aren’t foreseen. On their 2002 Canadian visit, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip went to an outdoor event. In October. In the coldest big city in the world—Winnipeg. Beside the Red River. Naturally, the temperature plunged to just above freezing.
The royal couple was seated on an exposed platform without so much as a lap rug to keep them from shivering in the wind as they listened to the droning tones of politicians. To add insult to injury, their boat conked out on the Red River and had to be towed to the other shore. “That was interesting,” Elizabeth II said to Gary Doer, then premier. The Times of London translated that queenspeak into “I am not in the least amused.” After that frigid adventure, the monarch decided not to rely on the foresight of tour organizers. At that evening’s event—again outdoors—she wrapped herself in a thick mink coat.
Sometimes it isn’t the planning that goes wonky but the guests. Our sovereign and her husband barely escaped a Montreal ballroom intact in 1959. The Canadian Press reported on a mob of “ladies in elaborate evening gowns and men in white ties [who] perched on tops of chairs” and jostled waiters to get a look at the dancing royal couple. It got so dangerous that the Mounties formed a protective phalanx around them and guests were asked to leave. One observer was stunned: “These people are supposed to be the leaders of society and they acted like bobby soxers trying to get a look at Elvis Presley.”
Then there is overly-effusive-politician syndrome. During the 1983 visit by Charles and Diana to New Brunswick, premier Richard Hatfield’s bizarre speech had the royal couple squirming in embarrassment—“We have heard and read the lies. Your royal highness, the Princess of Wales, as it always is, today it was wonderful to meet and know the truth.” Everyone, especially the British tabloids, assumed he was drunk.
Given how susceptible travel itineraries are to glitches, it is no surprise the Queen has experienced more than her share of chaos over the years. A tour of Asia in 1972 had a trifecta of transportation snafus. First, Elizabeth and Philip were stranded by the side of a road on the outskirts of Bangkok after their car broke down following a formal evening function. Then they arrived at a reception in Brunei in a vast chariot, pulled by 48 soldiers, only to discover the steps wouldn’t descend. It took a swift kick from Philip to free them. Finally, in Malaysia, a strong river current nearly swept the couple’s royal barge downstream. Five accompanying canoes were swamped in the wash of the flotilla and one paddler nearly drowned.
Perhaps organizers should bear in mind the mandate given by Britain’s Home Office to bureaucrats planning Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee celebrations back in 1977: “You must not bore the public. You must not kill the Queen.”