The bizarre story of how Elizabeth became Queen in Kenyan treetops
As the Queen celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, the longest serving British monarch, many will be looking back to her early days on the throne as she took over from her father, King George VI.
Unbeknownst to many, Princess Elizabeth was all the way in Kenya when she became Queen.
The soon to be Queen was watching baboons and taking photographs of a sunrise from a Kenyan hotel, set in the branches of a giant fig tree.
It was February 6, 1952 and the 25-year-old princess and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, were in the African country on a Commonwealth tour.
In the UK, King George V1 died in the early hours of the morning.
Elizabeth and Philip had spent the night at the remote Treetops Hotel, accessible via a ladder, in Aberdare Forest, where they watched baboons in the jungle.
The princess climbed up to a look-out point at the top of the tree to see the dawn breaking.
The duke’s friend, Mike Parker, was at the Queen’s side at the lookout when they spotted an eagle hovering overhead.
“I never thought about it until later but that was roughly the time when the King died,” he later recalled.
Lady Pamela Hicks, who was the Queen’s lady in waiting and also Philip’s cousin, said the Queen and the duke were “the last people in the world to hear” that King had died.
Lady Pamela said: “She goes up as a princess. The king dies that night. She comes down the ladder as a Queen.”
Secret ciphers were sent by the British Embassy to the governor, announcing the King’s death, but the coded messages could not be read as the key to the code was elsewhere.
When the news finally filtered through to royal aides, Elizabeth was resting later at Sagana Lodge, a wedding present from the people of Kenya.
Martin Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary, was in a restaurant in a nearby town. He was approached by a writer who commented on the death of the King.
Returning to the lodge, he informed Parker who crawled into the room were the Queen was at her desk, motioned to the Duke of Edinburgh and secretly turned on the radio very low to get confirmation but prevent the Queen finding out this way.
Philip then broke the sad news to his wife while, taking her to the garden and telling her whilst they were alone.
Lord Charteris remembered seeing the new monarch seated at her desk in the Lodge appearing “very composed, absolute master of her fate” and ready to fulfil the role for which she had been carefully groomed.
When asked what name she wished to use as Queen, she replied simply: “My own name, of course.”
Just hours later, the monarch and her consort were on their way back home.
Lord Charteris and Parker had packed up, worked out timetables, sent a flood of signals, organised a plane at Entebbe, another from Mombasa to get there, and timed a London airport arrival for 4pm the following day.
With the King’s health failing when they had left home, a Royal Standard had been stowed in the baggage.
Elizabeth’s mourning clothes were waiting for her in Entebbe and prepared for her to wear.
After a long journey home, the young, new Queen set foot on English soil – the runway at London airport – for the first time as sovereign.