‘I think she’s a fantastic ambassador’

Peter Thompson (right) with the Queen and the model fire engine he built
Peter Thompson (right) with the Queen and the model fire engine he built
Sara Gohl  is determined to be an inspiration to her son. and below,, Sara, Robin, and husband Richard in France before her cancer diagnosis, in 2015

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RACHEL JONES talks to people who have met the Queen and looks at the monarch’s enduring popularity.

Wearing a brand new dress with matching ribbons and clutching her favourite teddy bear, Georgina-Emily Cook waited patiently for her dream moment.

Georgina Cook from Gosport who when aged eight met the Queen with her teddy Bessa, during the Queens Golden Jubilee visit to Portsmouth in 2002

Georgina Cook from Gosport who when aged eight met the Queen with her teddy Bessa, during the Queens Golden Jubilee visit to Portsmouth in 2002

The eight-year-old had shopped carefully with mum Sylvia for the right outfit, bear Bessa was wearing a new gold dress and the pair were about to meet the Queen.

It would be hard to imagine the little girl’s excitement. Georgina was such a fan of the royals that when given a choice between visiting the Disney store and the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state, she had queued for five hours for the latter.

And now she was about to meet Her Majesty and present her with her own portrait, carefully drawn by Georgina from her memories of the Jubilee procession.

‘I was nervous and excited, as the Queen was standing in front of me. But I’d practised the curtsey and everything so I knew what to do,’ says the royalty fan, now an 18-year-old A-level student. ‘She came up and asked me what my name was and said did I have a picture for her. I think I just said yes, it all went so fast.’

But she’ll never forget the impromptu moment when a woman ran up and gave Prince Philip a rose. ‘He walked up to me and put it under my nose and asked if it smelled nice,’ says Georgina. ‘Obviously we didn’t know that was going to happen.’

Georgina had entered a News competition for children to meet the Queen when Her Majesty visited Gunwharf Quays as part of her 2002 jubilee tour.

Judges were impressed with the little girl’s drawing and dedication. Georgina, her mum and nan had camped in The Mall for the Golden Jubilee procession and she had drawn the Queen in the coral outfit she had worn for the occasion.

The young fan and her family had been right at the front of the crowd and shaken hands with Prince Charles and Prince Harry when they strolled up to talk to the hordes of well-wishers.

Georgina’s happy memories must be echoed by many who have met the Queen and will be recalling those special moments as we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee this long weekend.

And as a teenager representing the future of the nation her feelings about the royal family must be a positive sign for everyone who wants to see the monarchy thriving and continuing as part of the fabric of our society.

‘I think the Queen is a fantastic ambassador for this country,’ says Georgina, who lives in Gosport. ‘The royal family do some really good work and I think they bring a really positive atmosphere to the country. They’re role models really.’

As we launch into four days of celebration to mark the Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne, there seems plenty of support from a patriotic, partying nation.

And although there are many who don’t believe the royal family should continue in their existing role, plenty of others are ready to wave flags for the future of the monarchy.

Admiral Sir Jonathon Band has met the Queen many times as former First Sea Lord and a deputy lord lieutenant of Hampshire.

As part of the team that represents the monarch in the county and escorts the royal family when they visit , he has seen the reactions of crowds and the people who have had the chance to meet and talk to Her Royal Highness.

He says: ‘She is such a pleasant and interesting person. She has an incredible knack, for that moment when you’ve been introduced and you’re talking to her, of giving you her complete attention and making you feel like you are the only person in her life. She’s got the touch. It could feel like she’s very distant, sitting on her throne miles away. But it isn’t like that. She acts in the appropriate way and is very much royalty of course, but I think she is very much the people’s Queen.’

Sir Jonathon points out that the royals are currently enjoying a high point in their popularity.

‘I think at the moment the two princes are incredibly appealing and popular. But if you go back to periods before, the royal family as a whole have had some challenging times. At the moment, though, they’re on a high and I think that is largely due to the Queen and the appeal of the princes.’

He outlines why he thinks the nation still has huge amounts of affection for Her Majesty.

‘I think it’s the continuity she has provided over a period of huge change. She embodies what to some people is an old-fashioned concept, but to others is vital, which is duty.

‘She basically serves her country, that comes over loud and clear. And despite her age she still cracks out an incredible programme. Her physical stamina must impress everybody.’

The 86-year-old Queen is currently patron of 600 charities and organisations, over 400 of which she has held since 1952.

She has answered around three-and-a-half-million items of correspondence, sent more than 175,000 telegrams to centenarians in the UK and Commonwealth and undertaken 261 official overseas visits to 116 different countries.

The extent of her ceremonial and traditional role in society is clear.

What has been less certain over the years is how long the public at large want this kind of monarchy to continue.

The fact that Georgina has been a fan since the age of seven shows that enthusiasm for the royal family can still be passed through the generations.

‘I don’t know what it is about them. I think my mum brought me up to really respect the royals and we went and did those things together. But it was me that wanted to go the to Golden Jubilee and camp and wait to see them.’

‘She adds laughing: ‘Partly it was because I loved Prince William. I thought he was going to be my future husband. But I really wanted to meet all of them. So getting to talk to the Queen was the most exciting thing that could happen.’

When eight-year-old Georgina heard she had won the News competition she ‘screamed the house down’, she was so excited. But she wasn’t allowed to tell her school friends for days. ‘That was really hard for an eight-year-old. I wanted to tell everyone but it became mine and mum’s big secret.’

These days she’s knuckling down to exam study and won’t find time to visit London for some royalty spotting. But she’ll be celebrating with memories of that special day.

When Peter Thompson presented a carefully-crafted gift to the Queen, he didn’t expect to see it again.

But he was in for a surprise. Years later Peter discovered his model of a fire engine had been given pride of place in a display at Sandringham.

The former fireman was asked to make the miniature replica for Her Majesty’s visit to the new brigade headquarters in Eastleigh in 1985.

The Cosham firefighter was known for his model-making skills and set to work on an intricately detailed version of an 1840 horse-drawn pump.

He ended up spending 12 hours a day for six weeks making the model, which was to be given to the Queen as a gift.

Lovingly crafted from wood, brass and other metals, it caught Her Majesty’s notice when she walked past it displayed on a table.

‘I thought she was just going to breeze by, say very nice and cheerio,’ says Peter, who is now 64.

‘But she was really interested. There had been a cavalcade for her and she noticed it was like a full-size version in that. She wanted to know how it was made and asked several questions, I was really impressed.’

It was several years later that Peter’s parents visited the Queen’s Norfolk estate and spotted his model in a display cabinet.

Peter and his wife Margaret saw it some years after that when they were visiting friends in the area. ‘It was in this museum. It was the first thing we saw in a glass case when we walked in,’ he says.

The visit to the HQ was a memorable occasion, with firefighters giving displays of their standard fire drills.

‘I was glad to have the job I was given. It meant I could do it at home and have it all ready for when she arrived. I would have been very nervous doing the drills,’ says Peter, recalling the tower being filled with smoke and then tackled by the crews as a display. It was customary to give visitors a bit of a soaking but the Queen escaped that treatment, he says.

Peter, who lives in Waterlooville, is still full of admiration for Her Royal Highness and will be joining in a street party on Monday.

He says: ‘I think she’s been a magnificent sovereign. She’s a gracious and sensible person and sets a good example to us all.’