After 6pm on 8 September 2022 Buckingham Palace issued a statement that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had passed away, aged 96.
The nation had started to prepare for the prospect of sad despatches when mid-morning news reports began to be transmitted by news desks across the world that the British Royal Family were meeting with Britain’s longest-serving monarch at Balmoral in Scotland.
For many, the Queen was the only monarch they have ever known properly and even if all they ever remember of her was her waving from her balcony at Buckingham Palace, it felt to them like the balcony next door. This was a down-to-earth monarch who could repair a Land Rover or change a wheel, and who personally fed her beloved Corgi dogs.
A journalist friend of mine, born just two months after Elton John in 1947, Michael Goodman, might be familiar to some of our readers. For Elton’s 50th birthday Hercules fan convention in 1997 at the Albany Hotel, Earl’s Court, Michael arrived dressed as the oldest-reigning monarch Louis 14th, echoing Elton’s Hammersmith Palais birthday stunt. He told me today: “She [Queen Elizabeth II] leaves a void in our lives. I was five when I heard the death of King George VI on the radio. It’s hard to take in [today’s news].”
Elton John, who was close to the Royal Family and a near neighbour of Her Majesty in Windsor, issued his own tribute on social media within an hour of the news breaking HM Queen had died.
The Queen was a tireless servant of public duty. In June she celebrated 70 years on the throne, as she chalked up a Platinum Jubilee, the first British monarch to do so, and the last of the Jubilee ceremonies in the book. At the start of this week, she appointed her 15th Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and appeared for photographs. But by Thursday it was clear this was the end of the most remarkable era in British public life.
Sir Elton, who was previously named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1995 and knighted in 1998, was made a member of the Order of Companions of Honour – the highest honour that can be bestowed by the British Royal Family.
The CH, awarded immediately after the family name to whom it is bestowed, is a special award granted to those who have made a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time. The members, of which there are 65 at any one time, currently include actress Dame Maggie Smith, Lord Coe, and John Major.
Elton received CH in acknowledgment of his services to music and the fight to end AIDS through the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The award was presented by the Prince of Wales Prince Charles in Windsor in November 2021. Tonight, the Prince of Wales became King Charles III and his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort.
Elton has had a long-standing friendship with the Royal Family, including with Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, The Queen Mother who reportedly danced to his music, as well as Princess Diana, and her sons Princes William and Harry. It is reputed that Elton wrote the single Princess for Diana in 1981, the year she wed the then HRH Prince of Wales, Prince Charles.
Elton has also met the Queen on a number of occasions and in his autobiography revealed an anecdote about the monarch in which she jokingly gave her nephew, Viscount Linley, a dressing down.
In his autobiography in 2019, Me: Elton John, the singer said Her Majesty had told Viscount Linley to check on his mother Princess Margaret, who had been taken ill. The incident occurred at a party at Windsor Castle around 1980.
Elton said: “I know the Queen’s public image isn’t exactly one of wild frivolity. But in private, she could be hilarious. I saw her approach Viscount Linley and ask him to look in on [The Queen’s] sister, who’d been taken ill and had retired to her room.
“When he repeatedly tried to fob her off, the Queen lightly slapped him across the face, saying ‘Don’t’ – SLAP – ‘argue’ – SLAP – ‘with’ – SLAP – ‘me’ – SLAP – ‘I’ – SLAP – ‘am’ – SLAP – ‘THE QUEEN!’
“As he left, she saw me staring at her, gave me a wink and walked off,” Elton wrote.
In another excerpt from Elton’s autobiography, he remarked that he also managed to roil the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Elton, who became owner of Watford Football Club in 1976, would throw parties for players and staff at his Old Windsor home and even painted his car the colours of the Watford FC team.
“I didn’t realise how much attention it had attracted until I was introduced to Prince Philip,” Elton said.
“‘You live near Windsor Castle, don’t you?’ Philip asked.
“‘Have you seen the bloody idiot who drives around that area in his ghastly car?’ the Prince continued: ‘It’s bright yellow with a ridiculous stripe on it. Do you know him?’”
The singer replied: “Yes, Your Highness. It’s actually me.”
“He didn’t appear particularly taken aback by this news at all,” said Elton.
“In fact, he seemed quite pleased to have found the idiot in question, so that he could give him the benefit of his advice.
“‘What the hell are you thinking? Ridiculous. Makes you look like a bloody fool. Get rid of it,’” the Duke Of Edinburgh told Elton.
Prince Philip died in April 2021.
I met Queen Elizabeth II on several occasions. Two of the more notable were when she visited the Reuters newsroom in London. She came in 2002 to the old Reuters building in Grays Inn Road, shared with ITN, wearing a lime green favourite garment. But her visit to the new building on 13 December 2005 was for me – literally – the one that got away. She came to officially open the new Reuters HQ in Canary Wharf, Docklands.
Journalists were congregating downstairs to get a glimpse after she officially sent out a news headline from the Mezzanine level Reuters museum that announced her arrival in the building. It landed on Reuters terminals all around the world. Then she was to come up to the newsroom.
I was looking forward to jumping into the seat of my American colleague who planned to go downstairs to get a better view. But he wised up that a sniffer dog had just followed a route next to his desk and mine. So he decided to stay put. And to his credit when HM The Queen arrived she walked over to his computer and he had the pleasure of showing her the news terminal! I felt robbed and all I could do was crane by neck towards lenses to get into some of the photos taken there. It was still a remarkable brush with an enduring and endearing monarch. She will be much missed by everyone whom she touched in her lifetime and we hope that her legacy of good governance and public duty will live on in future generations.