While the Press Wilted, Queen Elizabeth Dined
Oh, to be a reporter awaiting that coveted word from the mouth of a Queen! The Washington press corps proves that no sacrifice is too great for a glimpse of royalty
WASHINGTON — LIFE on the ``Queen beat'' is never easy for reporters and photographers who were cordoned off into press ``pools'' to do their watching of Queen Elizabeth II on her Washington visit. But there was one telling moment, seen from behind the red velvet rope for Pool 4, that offered a glimpse into the human side of being a queen. We were all standing in the majestic marble Great Hall of the Library of Congress where the temperature was 90 degrees with matching humidity. The Queen, who had climbed the Alps of marble stairs to the third floor mezzanine, had just met all 350 celebrities and politicians in the giant reception line which stretched around the rectangular hall for several city blocks. She paused in the last furlong before the the dining room where she was to preside over a Festival of British Film and Television lunche on.
The Queen, a petite woman in a marigold and white floral print dress, was carrying a white handbag of considerable clout, and wearing a diamond and pearl pin, and marigold straw hat. She was also wearing the highest high heels this reporter has ever seen. They were sturdy as the Corinthian columns in the Great Hall. The Queen is a trouper, who was following a daunting schedule in the sort of sweltering heat matched only by former colonies like India. The phalanx of tall men - American and British securi ty, embassy types, and public relations guys - who surrounded her, made the Queen look even more diminutive. After a morning in the Washington tropics, she looked wan but still regal. Suddenly she ankled off beyond them, toward the door of the luncheon and perhaps a cool seat.
``She's supposed to stay here!'' The discreet warning cry went out. They scuttled toward the door, formed a cordon around her until the proper timing and formalities allowed a royal entrance. She stood still, momentarily wearing a Queen Victoria ``we are not amused'' expression, then waited obediently as a little girl until the official 1:17 luncheon entrance.
Choreographing the Queen is a hidden part of the elaborate preparation that helps a royal visit run smoothly. ``She's here!'' they mutter into walkie talkies when she alights at her scheduled stops. For the gaggle of people looking on, it's a thrill.
Among the discreet gawkers: Jane Fonda in a hyacinth pink suit, clinging like ivy to the arm of her escort, Cable News Network's Ted Turner; Sen. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey, wilting in shirtsleeves until the Queen arrived and he popped his suit jacket on; ``Gandhi'' star Ben Kingsley in a silky gray suit; and the leadership of the US House and Senate. The Queen's consort, Prince Philip, could be glimpsed coming up the stairs in a dark blue suit, with just his head, shoulders, and his handsome eagle- like profile on display. ``Back behind the line!'' said some of the press whips when we strayed to catch a quote.
The royal couple, Librarian of Congress James Billington, and other dignitaries poured into the cream and gold, barrel-vaulted room with its art and poetry murals. The press did not, because it is a rule that the press cannot see or photograph the Queen eating. While they dined on a Jeffersonian menu including grilled turkey breast and a gingerbread trompe l'oeil book bound in a marzipan jacket, press pool 4 waited and sipped. A reporter had asked for a glass of cold water in the heat, and a compassionate waiter had returned with other waiters carrying three silver trays bearing bottles of mineral water and glasses.
Things fell so hopelessly far behind that a break from the rigid schedule was negotiated for press deadlines. An emissary was sent out to Pool 4: Toastmaster Harry Poloway, in scarlet frock coat, the man who announces the Queen, came out and thundered ``Power of the Press! Power of the Press!'' We were led into the dining room up onto a two-foot high dais trimmed in yellow silk and allowed to tape, note, and shoot away in a room so hot the spring flowers seemed to be melting on the tables.
Sir Richard Attenborough presented a special award to British-born actress Angela Lansbury, the star of the CBS TV show ``Murder, She Wrote.'' Reporters, with notebooks poised for two hours to write down exactly what the Queen said, found that the Queen did not utter a word.