No passport needed for globe-trotting Queen

·8-min read
The Queen is carried shoulder high in a canoe to the shore of Tuvalu at the end of her visit to the South Sea Islands in 1982 (PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen is carried shoulder high in a canoe to the shore of Tuvalu at the end of her visit to the South Sea Islands in 1982 (PA) (PA Archive)

The Queen may have been one of the most-travelled people in the world, but she did not own a passport.

British passports were issued in her name, so she was not required to have one of her own.

During her long reign, she circled the globe many times and visited almost every territory.

State visits usually followed a four-day pattern, but considerably longer tours were the order of the day for countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada where she was head of state.

She visited every country in the Commonwealth, except Cameroon and Rwanda, and many more besides – cementing relationships and promoting goodwill.

What ruffles there were often came courtesy of the Duke of Edinburgh, who was not quite so punctilious in observing social niceties.

He once almost provoked a diplomatic incident on a tour of China, referring in a private conversation with British students to the “slitty eyes” of their hosts.

Several years later he seemed to accuse the people of Hungary of being characterised by their “pot bellies” as he chatted to a British tourist in Budapest.

The Queen, in contrast, rarely put a foot wrong on tours refined over decades to iron out as many potential pitfalls as possible.

But there was no accounting for the unexpected, and it was that which caused some of the more amusing – or plain irritating – distractions during her overseas visits.

On a high-profile trip to the United States in 1991, no-one thought to alter the height of the lectern used by President George Bush as she swapped places with him to deliver a speech.

The American people were treated, as a result, to the unusual spectacle of seeing a wide-brimmed hat deliver the carefully crafted words of a visiting head of state.

The Queen, characteristically, saw the funny side. Two days later, in the first address by a British sovereign to a joint meeting of Congress, she brought the house down by remarking with a deadpan expression: “I hope you can all see me today.”

There were other times when her patience was stretched to the limit.

The 1982 visit to Morocco went so disastrously that royal officials were at one point reported to be on the verge of making the unprecedented decision to call it off.

Time after time King Hassan kept the Queen waiting – at one point in a desert heat of 35C (95F) – and the agreed programme was constantly changed by the autocratic monarch.

On a journey to the Atlas Mountains, the king – a fanatic for ensuring his own safety – insisted that the Queen and he switch cars seven times.

Buckingham Palace publicly insisted that all was well and the Queen was taking the erratic schedule in her stride, but it was clear on several occasions that she was very angry indeed.

But for all the hiccups, there were dozens of highly successful tours in which the Queen established a place in the hearts of millions of people across the world.

As a young woman, before she was queen, Princess Elizabeth experienced relatively little overseas travel.

It was not until she was 20 years old that Elizabeth first left Britain’s shores when she visited South Africa on a four-month tour with her parents, George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and sister Princess Margaret.

The visit was a memorable one as during the tour Princess Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday and made a famous radio broadcast to the Commonwealth.

Her words were to symbolise the spirit of her reign: “I should like to make this dedication now. It is very simple. I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Upon her return from South Africa, the princess’s engagement to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten was announced on July 10 1947. They were married four months later at Westminster Abbey on November 20.

In 1948, Elizabeth and Philip, by now the Duke of Edinburgh, visited France to open a British exhibition in Paris.

Trips to Malta, Gibraltar, Greece, Libya, Italy – including a meeting with the Pope – Canada, the United States – as guests of President Truman – and Kenya followed in the years to 1952.

The Kenyan visit was the first stage of a Commonwealth tour to Australia and New Zealand, but the king’s death, on February 6 1952, changed the itinerary – and Elizabeth’s young life forever.

Now Queen, she returned to Britain without delay.

But after the coronation, on June 2 1953, the Queen undertook her longest tour covering 43,618 miles, visiting Commonwealth countries in the West Indies, Australasia, Asia and Africa, from November 1953 to May 1954.

It included visits to Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, the Cocos Islands, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Aden, Uganda, Libya, Malta and Gibraltar.

During half a century on the throne, the Queen’s most frequent overseas destination was Canada, which she visited more than 20 times, as well as a visit in 1951 as a princess and brief refuelling stops.

Australia was a royal destination 16 times, New Zealand 10 times and Jamaica six times.

One of the most important state visits of her reign came in October 1994 when the Queen became the first British monarch to set foot on Russian soil.

Links between the royal family and Russia had been dislocated 76 years earlier, in 1918, when the Bolsheviks murdered the Queen and the duke’s ancestors, Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanovs, in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism ushered in a new era, sealed by the official visit of the world’s most famous monarch.

Accompanied by Philip, the Queen stayed in the Kremlin as the guest of President Boris Yeltsin.

Perhaps the most poignant and sensitive moment came when the Queen and Philip visited the Russian cathedral where the remains of their ancestors, the last tsar and his family, were to be reburied.

The duke had given a DNA sample which was used by scientists to prove conclusively that skeletons dug from a pit in eastern Russia in 1991 were those of the murdered imperial family.

Another first for the Queen was her state visit to communist China in October 1986.

No British monarch had ever visited mainland China, let alone walked the Great Wall.

In a show of respect for the royal visitor, China’s chain-smoking leaders even refrained from the habit in her presence.

Another Chinese practice – a noisy hawk and long spit into a brass pot – was also temporarily abandoned in the Queen’s honour.

However, she dined – with chopsticks – on sea slugs at a banquet in Peking’s (now Beijing) Great Hall of the People.

In March 1995, the Queen returned to South Africa, welcoming the former apartheid state back into the Commonwealth and giving the royal seal of approval to the charismatic President Nelson Mandela’s democratic “rainbow nation”.

Another memorable moment abroad was in October 2000 when the Queen visited the elderly Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

The two leaders met in private in the pope’s library and exchanged written texts setting out their thoughts on Christian unity.

The 80-year-old pontiff appeared physically frail, albeit mentally alert, and at times the Queen seemed concerned for his health.

During private talks, lasting 24 minutes, it is thought they discussed progress towards Christian unity, the Troubles in Northern Ireland and Third World debt relief.

The Queen observed Vatican protocol and wore black with a veil.

But she wore a three-quarter-length skirt and jacket rather than a full-length dress.

The pope, spiritual leader of a billion Catholics worldwide including six million in Britain, was dressed in white robes.

The Royal Yacht Britannia, in later years severely criticised as a waste of public money, served the Queen for more than four decades.

Staffed by the Royal Navy, the yacht played a central role in the hosting of “return” banquets and occasionally provided a welcome haven from the rigours of constant formal meetings and visits.

It was launched by the Queen on April 16 1953 and was commissioned for service on January 7 1954. It was decommissioned in December 1997.

Air transport was invariably provided by the Royal Squadron, formerly the Queen’s Flight, made up latterly of BAe 146 aircraft and helicopters, or by chartered long-haul jets.

In May 2011, the Queen made her first visit to Ireland, becoming the first British monarch to travel to the Republic since the nation gained independence from Britain.

Her grandfather George V travelled to the country in 1911, before independence.

An unprecedented security operation, costing an estimated £26.2 million, was put in place to protect the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh.

The state visit was heralded as a new era in relations between Britain and the Republic.

Buckingham Palace reviewed the Queen’s long-haul trips when she was in her late 80s – focusing on short, necessary state visits rather than lengthy foreign tours.

During the Diamond Jubilee, other members of the royal family travelled across the globe on her behalf and in November 2013 a trip to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was left to the Prince of Wales for the first time.

The Queen visited Pope Francis in Vatican City in April 2014 – in what was her first overseas trip in two-and-a-half years – and then in June 2014 paid a state visit to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

The following June she made a trip to Germany that included a visit to the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

And later the same year she went to Malta to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

But for the Queen, who had spent more than 60 years jet-setting around the world, the time had come to hand over her travel to the next generation.