Queen treasured memories she made with the Women’s Institute, says fellow member

·6-min read

The Queen “treasured the memories” she made with Sandringham Women’s Institute (WI), embracing her role as president and showing a sense of fun.

Yvonne Browne, vice president and chairman of the branch, said: “When you think of everything the Queen has done in her remarkable life, to be able to come to our little village here and remember the people and remember their families and chat about them is just remarkable.

“She had an incredible memory and sense of fun. She was just terrific.”

The Queen joined the WI in 1943 and would have celebrated 80 years of membership in January.

She became president of the Sandringham and West Newton branch in 2003, following in the footsteps of the Queen Mother.

Queen Elizabeth II at WI meeting
The Queen leaves after attending a Sandringham Women’s Institute meeting at West Newton Village Hall, Norfolk, with chairman Yvonne Browne (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mrs Browne, 72, said: “I think when she came here she treasured the memories she made here with the people.

“As I say, being able to come to our meeting and be part of the meeting, because the meeting did run as every WI meeting in the country runs, but the Queen was there as our president and she took on the role of president.

“She listened to the minutes and she signed the minutes, then she’d always give a little insight into what she’d been doing in the year and she just enjoyed sharing those moments.”

She said that the Queen had “sort of grown up with” many of the WI members on the estate.

“She always asked after the children whenever I saw her,” she said, adding that the Queen attended the christening of her son Clive at Sandringham Church and “always remembered” his name afterwards.

The Queen was “as natural as what we are” at the WI meetings, held in a village hall in West Newton on the Sandringham Estate, Mrs Browne said.

Queen Elizabeth II at WI meeting
Guest speaker Alexander Armstrong at West Newton Village Hall, Norfolk before the Queen arrives to attend a Sandringham Women’s Institute meeting (Joe Giddens/PA)

“She will talk to people,” she said. “We always observed the protocols and things at the meetings but you knew you could have a nice little conversation with her.

“The speakers, they were always so nervous when they came in, and I used to say to them ‘please don’t be nervous, the Queen will put you at your ease’, because that’s what she’s good at.

“Pam Ayres came along and she was quite nervous, you know what she’s like with her poetry. She read a few poems and she had a little chat.

“Clare Balding, of course the Queen has known Clare since she was a little girl through horses, so that was quite a nice really natural meeting if you like because there was a bit of rapport between Clare and the Queen.

Queen attends WI meeting
The Queen leaves a meeting of the Women’s Institute (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Then (BBC Look East presenter) Susie Fowler-Watt came in 2018 and that was the day of a massive power cut, no heating, no lighting, and we did wonder whether the Queen would come.

“I pre-warned Susie and said ‘there’s no guarantees here because we’ve got no heating and no lighting’ but sure enough the Queen came.

“I greeted her at the door, we walked into the room and the ladies obviously start singing God Save The Queen as that’s what we’ve always done.

“After that the Queen said ‘I can hear you but I can’t see you’.

“Everybody laughed and that sort of broke the ice if you like, because it was icy, and the meeting carried on.”

She said that Pointless co-host Alexander Armstrong was “really nervous” when he was the guest speaker at the group’s meeting in 2019.

Queen Elizabeth II at WI meeting
A general view of West Newton Village Hall, Norfolk, where Sandringham WI meet (Joe Giddens/PA)

“At the end we had a game of Pointless which the Queen very much enjoyed because it was one of her favourite programmes,” said Mrs Browne. “That was a lovely moment.

“I know afterwards he just couldn’t believe he’d actually been in a normal village hall with the Queen having a game of Pointless with the ladies of Sandringham WI.

“I have to say the Queen’s team won and I wasn’t on the Queen’s team.

“My fellow vice president was on the Queen’s team.”

She said you “always knew when the Queen was going to leave because her chair went back slightly, lipstick came out of the handbag, she put her lipstick on and I think that was the cue to the lady in waiting that we were getting ready to leave”.

Queen Elizabeth II at WI meeting
The Queen at West Newton Village Hall, Norfolk with fellow WI members (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mother-of-three Mrs Browne, a former administrative assistant at Park House Hotel on the Sandringham Estate, said finding herself with the Queen at the WI still seemed “surreal”.

“To me it’s surreal when I think of where I come from, I come from the north of England (in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester),” she said.

“I would be greeting the Queen at the door. I would be playing God Save The Queen and Jerusalem at the meetings.

“I still can’t quite believe it. It’s magical.”

Mrs Browne recalled how on one occasion she was away for six weeks, sending the Queen a postcard from New Zealand.

Mrs Browne said the Queen was still in residence at Sandringham when she returned and they saw each other at a church service.

“As she was leaving the church the choir were at the back, the Queen came down the aisle with the rector, she just stepped away from the rector and said ‘oh Yvonne, how lovely to see you back. Thank you for my postcard’,” said Mrs Browne.

“That is what it means to a lot of people because I think lots of people on the estate will have had similar experiences over the years.

“When the family are here they’re very much part of the village.”

Mrs Browne, reacting to news of the Queen’s death, said: “It was very, very sad and I am very, very sad as the Queen has been a constant in my life as she has in everybody else’s lives and to imagine a world without a lady that has had such a stabilising influence not just on us locally in this country but all over the world.

“She’s just been an amazing person.”