Memories of Queen Elizabeth II will be cherished by the many privileged to meet and mix with her during her reign. One of those was the Royal Australian Navy’s Captain Mark McConnell.

 

In 1986, I had the privilege of being selected as part of a team of young Navy sailors to embark on HMY Britannia.

One of my main roles was to lead the Royal Piping Party for all embarkations and disembarkations of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

We embarked the Royal Yacht at Christchurch and transited to Melbourne, where we berthed alongside Station Pier. I had never seen a crowd so large or so vocal. 

We prepared the yacht for the Queen and Duke’s arrival later that evening, and when the time came to be in place, the crowd had grown enormously. Lights, cameras and security were also in place. 

As we patiently waited, we were updated on the Royals’ arrival 20 minutes, 10 minutes and then five minutes out. 

Finally, the flashing lights of the police escort, the heightened energy of the crowd and the update from security informed us they were coming through the entry to the pier.

As the Queen alighted, the crowds cheered and the volume increased. I realised it was our time to perform.

The Queen stepped onto Britannia and looked at me with a comforting smile. 

She then turned and raised her hand to acknowledge the crowd, and it was like someone turning the stereo up to full bore. It was electrifying to witness such power in a hand gesture.

During my time on the Royal Yacht I had many interactions with the Queen. My memorable moment involved chocolates.

On a familiarisation tour of the Royal compartments, I had noticed small bowls of chocolates on the side tables in the main rooms.

I asked the butler why and he replied, “Her Majesty often likes a chocolate or two.” Then he invited me to help myself to them. Having a sweet tooth, I did just that. 

Later that afternoon, as the Royal Piping Party formed up for the Queen’s disembarkation, she approached me with a smile and said, “It’s awful to have a sweet tooth isn’t it?”

I had the further privilege of a private audience with the Queen and the Duke in 2006, when I worked for the Office of the Governor-General.

As I was announced, the Queen turned to her husband and said, “Philip, it is the smiling sailor.”

She then said to me, “It’s good to see one of us has progressed their career, and some of us have stayed in the same role.”

Again, I had daily interactions with the Queen during her time at Government House. 

As many have said, her warmth, interest in and knowledge of the people she met quickly settled any nerves. And, for those of us who experienced her sense of humour first-hand – well, that remains a privilege.