MY wife Hilary and I first met her late Majesty in Singapore in 1972 when the Commonwealth equivalent of a state visit there answered a British political need.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew believed Britain had let him down: the withdrawal of British troops East of Suez included Singapore. Our military investment there boosted the Singapore economy.
The impending economic gap was lessened by the diplomatic device of a small, temporary ANZUK Force. The Queen’s visit, however, did most to calm the threatening storm and serve British interests. Her Majesty’s personal diplomacy, above politics, was wonderfully effective.
I was instructed to arrange the visit. The Queen was accompanied by Prince Philip, Princess Anne and Lord Mountbatten. The programmes were packed.
We wanted the Queen to drive by a little of Singapore’s Chinatown, marked by the old, authentic, charming, but less than pristine atmosphere, buildings and people. PM Lee was against the Queen seeing, in his view, the ancient, scruffy and ripe for bulldozing. Yet eventually, Lee agreed.
However, during the night before that drive-by, Lee had those charming Chinese houses secretly covered with huge canvas hoardings. My diplomatic failure - Lee’s win.
Lee wanted HM Yacht Britannia, which brought the Royal visitors to Singapore, to moor opposite the green Padang and the Government buildings: a beautiful spot, even ideal, except for shallow water and proximity to Singapore River’s mouth.
The river smelled far less fresh than today. I consulted the royal yacht flag officer, and argued against Lee’s plan at dinner with the High Commissioner, the Cabinet Secretary and PM Lee.
Lee said he would have the spot dredged. I countered that the dredged berth would daily fill with mud from the river. Lee said he would have the berth dredged daily. Impractical. Eventually, the Royal Yacht moored at a new quayside berth, albeit in the container port. A vital British win.
The visit included some horse racing. The Queen had looked radiant and happy throughout, but when ushered into the VIP box at the races, her smile became a laugh of joy.
Her Majesty’s farewell dinner aboard HMY Britannia, and reception on the veranda deck was the one event to which Hilary and I were invited as guests.
The day before, the Master of the Royal Household told Hilary that he could not pronounce the more than 200 Chinese, Indian and Malay names of guests to be presented. Would Hilary mind if I made the presentations?
That meant we would not be formally presented to the Queen, arrayed in full royal evening dress, decorations and tiara. Hilary politely expressed her disappointment.
Next day, the Master of the Household asked me to make the presentations and told Hilary that the Queen had overridden a firm Royal Yacht rule - that when the Queen was dining aboard, the officers should not entertain any lady to dinner in the wardroom: would Hilary be the wardroom’s dinner guest?
Hilary ‘had a ball’. The reception under way, Hilary appeared on the veranda deck. She and I were taken forward by the Master for ten minutes’ private - and joyous - conversation, alone with Her Majesty.
In his condolence letter to King Charles, Singapore’s President wrote, with great truth, that Queen Elizabeth was “a wellspring of strength and inspiration”.