By Sarah Pridgeon
Meghan Markle seems to be settling into her new life quite beautifully, don’t you think? Sporting a modest baby bump and the perfect kind smile, she has returned triumphant from her first royal tour.
The newlyweds met thousands of people during their time in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Tonga, sharing traditional Maori nose-touching greetings and hugging excited children. She may only have been royalty for a few months, but our Meghan sure draws in the camera – and the crowds.
Two of the countries they visited – Australia and New Zealand – are still reigned by Queen Elizabeth II, while all four are members of the 53-country Commonwealth of Nations mostly made up of former British territories. A state visit is thus much more than a vacation; it’s a chance for Her Majesty’s people to meet the family.
It’s an opportunity for the royals to promote their own causes; for Meghan, it seems that female empowerment will become the issue of choice. For Harry, it’s mental health, something he has been passionate to promote for many years, and the Invictus Games that began while he was in Australia.
Thousands line the streets for the chance of a wave, a smile, a glimpse or a few words. The lucky ones, like the five-year-old in Dubbo who got to play with a prince’s beard and the woman in Christchurch who met the duchess who had helped her through a mental health crisis via the internet, will have a moment to never forget.
This may have been Meghan’s first rodeo, but most of the family is well seasoned at sharing British culture and values with the world. As the monarch for 16 countries and one of the longest-serving rulers in history, the Queen has been doing this for a lifetime.
And while the modern generation of royals is more open and informal, I’m not sure anyone will quite match Elizabeth II’s brand of brilliance when it comes to royal visits. Over 66 years on the throne, I’m not sure it would be possible to count the number of people upon whom she left a lasting impression.
Take the girls from the Australian women’s hockey team, for instance, who were photobombed by a smiling monarch while taking a selfie during the Commonwealth Games. Or those who witnessed the moment in 1950 when her husband chased her down the middle of a train while wearing a pair of joke false teeth.
Then there’s Geoff Capes, the shot-put champion from the 1982 Braemar Highland Games who was treated to a royal fit of the giggles when her hand got stuck to his thanks to the resin he had used for his grip. Or the Londoners celebrating VE Day in 1945 who may not even have realized that Elizabeth’s parents had given her permission to join the crowds and they were partying next to their future queen.
A couple of years ago, the Queen took a trip to the set of Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Northern Ireland. The producers invited her to sit on the pointy throne that gave the show its name, which was made by fusing together thousands of swords, but she found a diplomatic way to avoid getting nicks from its nasty edges.
As the Queen of England, she told them, she isn’t actually allowed to sit on a foreign throne. Though I’m sure they were disappointed, at least she didn’t accidentally take on the rulership of Westeros and force them to write a different ending for the show.
On one visit to an Australian university, the Queen and Prince Philip were introduced to Mr. and Dr. Robinson. The prince commented on the wife’s title being much more important than the husband’s and quipped, “Ah yes, we have that trouble in our family, too.”
Those who were present in Canada to show the beauty of Niagara Falls to their queen will likewise still be telling the anecdote of her reaction: “It looks very damp”.
It’s not only on her own travels that Elizabeth offers memories, either. One visitor to Scotland came across her as she took an incognito walk and commented that she looked just like the Queen. “How reassuring,” she replied.
One of my favorite stories about the Queen also took place as she was walking her corgis near Balmoral.
A group of American tourists asked her if she lived in the area, to which she simply replied that she had a house nearby. Excitedly, they asked if she had ever met the Queen.
“No,” she said, pointing to her companion. “But he has.”
I have never had the pleasure of meeting my monarch face-to-face, though I was one of a group of schoolchildren who welcomed Princess Diana to my hometown (my grandmother retrieved her fancy china from storage that day, just in case the princess stopped in for tea) and the Duchess of Kent officially opened the new music building at my secondary school.
Now she’s handed many of her duties to the next generations, I’m not sure I’ll ever have the chance. Perhaps we might one day see Meghan and Harry come to Wyoming, though he’ll want us to have a word with the kids before that happens – apparently, the last time he came to these shores, he laughed that he is often met with disappointment because the “real life prince” is never wearing his crown or a cape.
Meghan has big shoes to fill after almost seven decades of Elizabeth II’s special touch, but I have a feeling she’s going to do fine. Especially if she remembers the Queen’s mantra, first uttered when turning down the idea of tighter security: “I have to be seen to be believed”.