I WAS queueing for lunch at my East London school when the headmaster walked into the dining room and said, “Gentlemen, it has just been announced the King has died.”
As an 11-year-old schoolboy, the death of George VI in February 1952 didn’t mean anything to me — I just carried on with my lunch.
It is the stuff of royal legend how the beautiful 25-year-old Princess went to sleep in a treehouse hotel, while on tour in East Africa, and woke as Queen Elizabeth II after her father died suddenly, 4,000 miles away in England.
Three or four months later we were all marched up from our school in Stepney to Whitechapel to see the young Queen driving past. We stood for a couple of hours for a glimpse that lasted two seconds.
I might not have been impressed at the time, but little did I know then that I would spend most of my working life following Her Majesty around the world and learning what an incredible woman she is.
This year the nation will celebrate the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the world and, like me, feel lucky to have her as our Queen.
I was in the Scottish borders with her in September 2015 on the day she overtook her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria’s record of 63 years and 216 days on the throne.
She said it just meant she had lived a long time.
But we all know just how brilliantly she has done the job across seven decades in an ever changing nation.
One of her great strengths is how she has gradually opened up the monarchy to the public yet also maintained its mystery.
When she became Queen, it was considered pioneering that her coronation was televised. Now Her Majesty tweets, uses Instagram and makes video calls.
My first royal tours abroad were with Prince Charles and Diana, who were media stars.
But when I went on my first foreign trip with the Queen everything moved up a whole new level and I saw for the first time how loved and respected she was all over the globe.
Someone at the American Embassy once told me how the States had wanted a royal visit and were told, “We can send you Charles and Diana.” And the Americans said, “No, no, we want the Queen.”
And then when I got my MBE in 2003, who did I want to present it to me? Charles, William, Anne? No, I was just like everybody else. I wanted the Queen.
Elizabeth II embarked on her first royal tour as Queen in November 1953 and it was a whopper.
A global tour — the first time a British monarch had travelled around the world.
After the long trip they were finally reunited with their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne on the newly finished yacht Britannia just off the coast of Libya.
I remember them sailing back up the Thames after 173 days away. I was meant to be on a youth club outing but I missed the bus so I sat by the river watching the Britannia go under Tower Bridge.
The Queen quickly showed her determination to visit the subjects of all of her dominions and made it clear early on that she preferred to meet the ordinary people rather than endless lines of dignitaries.
Long before Princess Diana helped to dispel myths about Aids, the Queen visited lepers in Nigeria in 1956.
She was always brave — like in 1961 when she went to Ghana and in 1964 to French Canada in spite of assassination threats.
Harold Macmillan, later Prime Minister, wrote how she hated to be treated as a “mere woman”, or a film star or mascot.
And he compared her to the first Queen Elizabeth, who had claimed to have “the heart and stomach of a man”.
But with second son Prince Andrew born in 1960 and third son Edward born in 1964, the Queen stood back a little to devote time to her young family — and her dogs.
It has often been said to me by those close to Her Majesty that she is at her most relaxed with her corgis because they are the only “people” she ever deals with who don’t know she is the Queen.
As a young man trying to make his way as a photographer, I only remember noticing her at big news events, like the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969.
Or before that, her visit to the scene of the Aberfan disaster in 1966.
Long before Princess Diana helped to dispel myths about Aids, the Queen visited lepers in Nigeria in 1956. She was always brave — like in 1961 when she went to Ghana and in 1964 to French Canada in spite of assassination threats.
And, of course, I remember when she presented Bobby Moore with the World Cup that same year.
But the Royal Family became my bread and butter when, in 1976 my editor asked me to discover who Prince Charles might marry.
I was spending seven days a week working on it — and it meant, in 1976, I got to photograph the Queen for the first time.
I was at the Windsor Horse Show waiting to see if Charles might be there with a girl and I photographed Her Majesty getting out of a car with Prince Philip and Prince Edward, who was 12.
My first tour with the Queen was in November 1983 to Africa, Bangladesh and India.
It was one of the few times, in all the years that I have pictured her, when the Queen agreed to a photographic stunt.
We were at St Thomas’ School in New Delhi, India, and, as Her Majesty was about to leave, the grammar school girls asked if she would take a ride in their palanquin, or sedan chair.
The Queen happily obliged and seemed to be sitting pretty, but it was an illusion.
The girls “carrying” her were under no strain at all as the Queen was not sitting but walking along under the canopy.
During a 1986 tour of China, every member of the politburo and their families were seated in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for a state banquet in the Queen’s honour.
I will never forget how nervous she looked before making her speech.
I can still see the relief on her face, even after years making hundreds of speeches, when she finished. Her whole body changed, she relaxed and she started to enjoy the evening.
But my most memorable tour with her was to our nearest neighbour. In 2011 she became the first British monarch for 100 years to set foot on Irish soil, it was a trip I never thought I would see.
When, at a state banquet in Dublin, she spoke the opening words of her historic speech in Irish, President Mary McAleese exclaimed, aloud: “Wow!”
I swear The Queen was misty eyed as she left the stage. I know I was.
The Queen lives her life under enormous scrutiny. I once asked why she always goes to Balmoral Castle in Scotland for summer holidays when, as Queen, she could go anywhere.
She told me that it is because she likes it there. And her staff pointed out to me that it is one of the only places in the world where people just ignore her and let her get on with riding or walking her dogs.
Even the police on the estate are hidden away in wooden shelters where she does not have to see them.
I remember I was at Sandringham in 1977 on the lookout for Prince Charles, who had been dating Lady Sarah Spencer, Diana’s older sister.
My editor had told me: “Whatever you do, don’t harass the Queen.”
Well, I and other photographers were standing on the edge of a field one day, hoping to photograph Charles and Sarah out shooting, when the Queen drove up in a Land Rover in a headscarf and old brown Barbour jacket.
She opened the back of the vehicle and let out five or six dogs, who she called by name as she got them to come to heel.
Meanwhile, myself and the other photographers were standing respectfully with our cameras down, not taking any pictures.
When she got a little further down the track she said to one of her staff: “Why are they not taking any photographs?”
He informed her that we were under strict instructions not to harass her and she said: “I don’t know which is worse — being harassed or being ignored!”
The Queen has had tough times, of course. There was the “annus horribilis” of 1992, when three of her children’s marriages collapsed and fire engulfed Windsor Castle.
But again, she correctly sensed the public mood about repair costs and she agreed to pay tax for the first time.
And five years later I was in Portsmouth as the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned.
The Queen shed a tear for the wonderful times in her “other” palace, where everything was still from the 1950s because she never wanted anything on board to change.
Some of the most difficult problems — and constitutional crises — the Queen has had to deal with during her long reign have concerned her own family.
When she got a little further down the track she said to one of her staff: ‘Why are they not taking any photographs?’ He informed her that we were under strict instructions not to harass her and she said: ‘I don’t know which is worse — being harassed or being ignored!’
As head of the Church of England, she had no sooner been crowned than she had to take an official view of her sister Princess Margaret’s ill-fated romance with divorcee Captain Peter Townsend.
Later she had to watch Margaret’s pain as her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones failed.
Then there were the divorces of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1992 and, four years later, Prince Charles and Diana and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
Worse was yet to come with the death of Diana in 1997, and one of the lowest points of the reign.
Her Majesty came in for attack because of her apparent aloofness over the Princess’s death.
But I was not one who believed that the Queen should have had to make her grief public, rather than staying at Balmoral, comforting and advising her son and her two grandsons.
I thought the heartfelt televised tribute she paid to Diana was incredibly brave and sincere.
I told her so at a press reception we had during the Queen’s tour of Pakistan and India later that year.
I told her I had watched it in a pub in Westminster and how the whole place had gone quiet to hear her speak.
As the Queen left the reception, her lady-in-waiting came back and said: “Thank you, for saying those lovely things to the Queen.”
But I was not one who believed that the Queen should have had to make her grief public, rather than staying at Balmoral, comforting and advising her son and her two grandsons. I thought the heartfelt televised tribute she paid to Diana was incredibly brave and sincere.
It was at that moment that it dawned on me how few people ever told her what a great job she did, not just after Diana’s death, but throughout her long reign, coping with the huge responsibility of being head of state.
That tour to India — the first since the death of Diana — marked a noticeable change in the Royal Family’s approach to the public and the Press. They became more transparent and proactive and a little more relaxed.
But the Queen would rarely do a stunt for an easy photo, like throwing a dart or picking up a billiard cue. You just have to wait for her to smile.
That amazing smile would light up the whole room. And she has a great sense of humour.
She unveiled Eric Morecambe’s statue in Morecambe, Lancs, in 1999, showing him in his Bring Me Sunshine pose.
The statue made me laugh and I knew the Queen was laughing too, but I did a shot from the back. You didn’t need to see her face, you knew that she was smiling.
The best picture I ever took of the Queen was at the Derby, which I tried never to miss because she always relaxed there, often with Prince Philip in the background listening to the cricket.
When I first saw the Queen for the first time all those years ago in East London, she had already pledged to devote her whole life — “whether it be short or long” — to her people.
Travelling the world with her for 40 years, she has made me proud that I am British and so proud that she is our Queen.
THE Queen is – almost – never late.
But on the way to RAF Coltishall near Norwich in 2005 the royal car was held up by a nervous learner driver doing 15mph down a narrow country lane.
When the flypast of RAF Jaguars screamed low over the base, the Queen had not yet arrived.
I stood behind the Queen as the planes turned round and did it again for her.
It made a stunning picture.
‘Give her Bank Hol for ever’
CAMPAIGNERS are calling on the Government to make June’s bonus Bank Holiday to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee an annual event.
A raft of organisations including the Scouts, Royal Voluntary Service, Confederation of British Industry and FA are backing the “Thank Holiday” campaign that would acknowledge the monarch’s extra-ordinary service and how the nation pulled together during the pandemic.
Tony Danker, director general of the CBI, said: “The proposal for a new Thank Holiday to recognise the Queen’s selfless service and to extend that notion of service across communities is a really exciting one.”
The newly-launched campaign is being led by the Together Coalition, founded by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “An annual Thank Holiday would give a welcome boost for a recovering hospitality sector.”
Here Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods explains why a new holiday would be brilliant for workers and business . . .
“At a time when the news seems to be a daily misery fest of reported rule-breaking, soaring prices, and even rumours of impending war, it’s more important than ever to remember the many things for which we can be truly grateful.
“Foremost among these is our return to normality after two long years of Covid restrictions, and the extraordinary 70-year service to the nation of The Queen.
“I’m really looking forward to the extended Platinum Jubilee bank holiday weekend at the beginning of June, as a chance not just to celebrate this amazing milestone for our monarch, but to unite communities right across the country.
“The Big Jubilee Lunch on the weekend of June 2-5, which Iceland and The Food Warehouse are very proud to sponsor, is a great opportunity for neighbours to come together and give thanks for the mutual aid that has helped us through the pandemic.
“But an extra annual celebration will bring more people out on to our hard-pressed high streets, supporting their local shops, restaurants and pubs.
“More money in their tills will increase the number of jobs, and add to the taxes they can pay to the Treasury.
“So bring it on, Boris. Grant us all the Thank Holiday that will add to the happiness of the nation just when it needs a boost.”