Needham remembers Queen Elizabeth as ‘a very lovely and decent person’

Merrick Needham on Thursday remembered Queen Elizabeth II as an outstanding woman who, throughout her 70 years on the British throne, ruled with grace and diplomacy.

“She filled her office supremely well. She was a very lovely and decent person,” Needham told the Jamaica Observer shortly after Buckingham Palace announced that The Queen, the longest-serving monarch in British history, had died at her Scottish Highland retreat at age 96.

Needham — who for more than 40 years was Jamaica’s principal logistic, ceremonial, and protocol consultant — is still the only living Jamaican who was functionally involved in all of The Queen’s six visits to the island between 1953 and 2002.

In honour of that service he was awarded The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

For services in connection with the 1994 royal visit, The Queen appointed him a member of the Royal Victorian Order.

On Thursday Needham recalled being presented with that award, noting that the event was “very formal”.

“She just presented me with my medal and said congratulations. It was more or less unspoken. It was on the royal yacht in the Kingston Harbour,” recalled Needham who will mark his 89th birthday in December this year.

“That was the nearest I came to having a physical closeness to her,” added Needham, whose appointment as a member of the Order of St John in 1998 was sanctioned by The Queen.

Needham, who at age seven was taken by his mother to Jamaica from England during World War II, recalled travelling back to Britain in 1953 to attend The Queen’s coronation on June 2 that year. At the time he was 17 years old.

“My father, who was an admiralty officer, had arranged for me to get a seat on The Mall between the Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace front gate. It’s about a mile long, very wide, and dead straight with lovely gardening on both sides which they covered up with wooden benches and seated thousands of us,” he told the Observer.

“I didn’t witness the coronation live, but after the ceremony we were able to see her in the procession,” he said.

Although his involvement in the logistical arrangements for the royal visits did not place him in direct contact with The Queen, Needham recalled that he had a few conversations with her husband Prince Philip.

“He was very convivial. She was, in an elegant, gentle way, withdrawn. She was not a chatterbox at all. She was a very fine person but not at all pompous,” he said.

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