Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II walked by my desk this week. “So what!” I hear you cry. Huw Edwards and Daniel Craig walk by all the time. Sure, they’re all household names, but neither Huw nor Daniel are Head of the Commonwealth. And Daniel has not, in fact, ever walked by my desk.
My desk is in the middle of the BBC’s shiny new newsroom at Broadcasting House in central London. The Queen’s carefully planned route took her through a number of key areas in the building, including Radio 1, the Today studio and the area where Sir Bruce Forsyth happened to have been standing. In the newsroom she walked past the main UK radio, television and online news production areas, followed by the central newsgathering hub. And then, subversively ignoring our clear signage, she came to rest in front of Studio E, the showpiece studio from where the most high-profile TV news output is broadcast.
We’re a cynical lot, journalists. We’ve seen a disproportionate number of household names, politicians, celebrities and royals. When they breeze by our desks, we barely stifle our yawns. Partly it’s genuine insouciance, and partly it’s a need to project that sense to others. Any germ of excitement must be smothered at birth.
But I polished my shoes on Thursday night. And I shaved on Friday morning. Many colleagues wore their best ties or wedding guest dresses. Unusually we looked like a professional newsroom. Apparently Molton Brown toiletries were placed in the designated toilet for the duration of the visit.
We were encouraged not to crowd around the Queen, but simply to act naturally and either stand or continue working as she walked by. Taking a short break from actually covering her visit, I stood by my desk. I was almost crowded into oblivion by other colleagues, acting ‘naturally’. By the time Her Majesty reached me, she had already walked past some of those standing next to me, in another part of the newsroom. It reminds me of one of those long exposure school photos in which the boy on the left also makes it onto the right hand side before the shutter closes.
We’re a diverse bunch at the BBC. We’re not all pinko lefties, nor establishment small ‘c’ conservatives, as popular myth might suggest. There are both monarchists and republicans amongst us, and many of the latter seemed just as eager to see and applaud their Queen as the former.
The moment when she stopped in front of the studio, facing on-air presenters Sophie Long and Julian Worricker, was both surreal and moving. Our standing ovation was indeed a natural response to a much-loved 87-year-old lady with a lifetime of service to the nation. Whatever our feelings about the Royal Family as an institution, they did not feature in our appreciation of the Queen herself.
It was all a bit much for some viewers. At least one complained to Newswatch: “Can’t your BBC newsroom staff behave? It was embarrassing to see them mob the Queen in such a manner and thrust their mobiles in her face for a picture. Surely they were all told to behave beforehand?”
“They were, and they didn’t,” responded the presenter Samira Ahmed. The Queen has a star quality like no other. And it turns out we journalists aren’t quite as cynical as we like to think we are.