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Friday April 21, 2006

An encounter to remember


PENANG: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who turns 80 today, has visited Malaysia three times and many Malaysians have fond memories of seeing or meeting one of the world’s longest reigning monarchs. 

Her first and longest visit was in 1972 when she toured several Malaysian states.  

Her other visits were in conjunction with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1989 and the Commonwealth Games in 1998. 

Tait: ‘I consider myself to be among the few lucky ones to have seen the Queen in person’
During her 11-hour visit to Penang in 1972, Queen Elizabeth captivated the hearts of all those who were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her. 

The Star’s assistant editor Anna Cheah, 57, then a cub reporter with the New Straits Times, was assigned to cover her visit from the Supreme Court building in Jalan Farquhar.  

The motorcade was to make its way to the then new Dewan Sri Pinang. 

There was a sea of people, including thousands of schoolchildren, waving the Union Jack, Cheah recalled. 

“Then the main car stopped and the Queen elegantly stepped out for a walkabout,” she said.  

“She smiled with her blue eyes and waved. She looked so fresh and serene despite the strong morning sun. A true English rose. Her complexion was flawless. 

“An air of excitement rippled through the crowds. They surged forward but the bodyguards had already formed a security ring round the Queen and Prince Philip, who stood a few paces behind. 

“All eyes were mainly on the Queen. There were a few Convent Light Street girls who tried to give flowers to the Queen but the bodyguards took those. The clicking cameras made such a din!” 

Cheah said although the walkabout was over within minutes, the details of this “close encounter” with the Queen has remained vivid in her mind.  

The royal couple arrived at the Swettenham Pier on board The Britannia on March 8, 1972. 

A BRIEF GLIMPSE: A photograph of Queen Elizabeth inside the funicular train at Penang Hill’s Middle Station taken by Tait in 1972.
The ship berthed at 9.30am that day and it was reported in The Star on March 9 that the Queen, who was dressed in a lavender blue silk dress with scalloped neckline, was greeted by more than 800 invited guests at the pier. 

The royal couple were taken to Dewan Sri Pinang and they later visited Batu Ferringhi, the Botanic Gardens and Penang Hill. 

They left Penang at 8.30pm that day. 

Senior citizen James Tait recalled how pretty and demure the Queen looked when she first emerged from the funicular train at the Middle Station during her visit to Penang Hill. 

“I remember her wearing a sleeveless dress and a hat. She was rather quiet,” said the former Penang Municipality electrician. 

Tait, 88, who was then in charge of the haulage system at Penang Hill, was on duty at the Middle Station on the day of the Queen’s visit. 

”She had a private visit to the Penang Hill and the trains were specially reserved for the Queen and her entourage of more than 10 people including my head of department, the late Hardial Singh,” he said. 

“The Queen was surrounded by bodyguards and even though I was on duty that day, I could not get any closer to her.”  

However, he said, he had taken his faithful German-made Rollicord camera to work that day and managed to capture the historical visit on film. 

“The Queen was only at the Middle Station for about five minutes as she had to change trains to take her up to the hill station,” he added. 

“I was about three metres away from the Queen and managed to take about 12 pictures of her and her group.”  

Tait said the Queen’s visit did not attract a large crowd to Penang Hill as the stations had been cordoned off temporarily. 

“I consider myself to be among the few lucky ones to have seen the Queen in person, although I did not have the chance to shake her hand or speak to her,” he said. 

“My photographs are the only records I have of the Queen’s visit and I consider them as some of my most prized possessions.”  

Senior Citizens Association president and former New Straits Times photojournalist Lawrence Cheah, 62, said he remembered the Queen’s visit very vividly.  

He was assigned to follow her and Prince Philip as their Rolls Royce made its way to the then governor’s resdence at Jalan Residensi. 

“I was 26 then. My great-grand uncle was also working as a photojournalist at the time and he was assigned to cover the Queen’s arrival at the Swettenham Pier because he was the more senior person,” he recalled. 

“I followed the Queen on a motorcycle and took pictures of thousands of schoolchildren waving the Union Jack and the Federation flags. I was asked to capture the crowd’s reaction and it was all so overwhelming. 

“At least 10 schools sent students to line the streets to welcome the Queen and her entourage.”  

Lawrence also took pictures of the Queen and Prince Philip at a garden party held in their honour. 

“The afternoon tea party was held at the governor’s residence. The couple was introduced to the VIPs but we (reporters and photographers) were not allowed to get too close,” he recalled. 

  • See Happy Bethday for more stories on Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. 

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