The visit of Queen Elizabeth to New York today brought back old memories. The last time she was in New York she was 50 years old and celebrating the Bicentennial. Flanked by nervous security men scanning the crowd for IRA assassins, she was walking up Wall Street to Trinity Church for the ritual collection of back rent in the amount of 279 peppercorns. And I was there with my family, taking pictures. She walked by so close that we could have reached out and touched her, as some people did.
I took this photo (view large on black) with a Nikon Ftn, Tri-X film and a 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor lens, focusing manually on a rapidly moving subject -- which accounts for the fact that the sharpest focus is on the back of her hat instead of her face. Given the legendary sharpness of the 105mm lens, that was probably a lucky accident, giving her face a pleasing softness that matched the emotions of the moment.
Security measures were unprecedented (the IRA was not happy with the Royals, and three years later, they blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten in his fishing boat off the coast of Ireland). Decoy launches disguised the movement of her boat to shore from the royal yacht. The parade route in lower Manhattan was not publicly announced. That's why I got such a great position in line. I had stumbled on the route of the procession as the crowd was gathering, while I was on business downtown. I called T and told her to get on the subway with M and I would save a place. They joined me well before the Queen arrived.
It was an extraordinary moment. Here's how I recalled it a few years ago.
I have never been much of a fan of the British royal family, but when Elizabeth and her entourage -- Prince Philip not alongside her, but several steps behind, as protocol dictates -- passed within ten feet of where we stood I was simply stunned. Diana Spencer had not yet entered her life, and the fairy tale turned nightmare that was to be the story of their relationship still lay in the future. She was radiant. The word "regal" didn't begin to do her justice.The word charisma doesn't do the moment justice. She was the epitome of beauty and grace, a goddess of superhuman poise. Since then, 34 eventful years have passed. We're all older now. The Royal Family have revealed themselves to be all too human. But, at 84, Elizabeth is a survivor. On Sept. 10 2015, at the age of 89, she will surpass Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history. I wouldn't bet against her making it.
There was an aura about her, and her face seemed to glow with its own pearly light. Partly, it was a trick of makeup, the hazy light of a New York morning, and the euphoria of the Bicentennial in our biggest city. Mostly, though, the aura came from within, illuminated by 1,000 years of British history. Briefly, I was seized by the desire to fall to my knees and pledge eternal fealty. The divine right of kings started to make sense, and ever so briefly, before the moment passed, I became an instant royalist.