Her British Airways Boeing 777 jet airliner touched down yesterday at Piarco International Airport at exactly 2.44 pm, after a four-hour flight from Bermuda. After a 15-minute wait at the end of the runway, in which time local dignitaries including President George Maxwell Richards and Prime Minister Patrick Manning took their positions on the tarmac, the plane taxied up to the red carpet. British High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Jenkinson, and local Chief of Protocol, Reitha Toussaint, ascended the stairs and entered the craft. A senior British military officer descended to join the waiting party at the foot of the stairs.
At 3.02 pm, Her Majesty appeared at the door of the aircraft, followed closely by her husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Queen looked extremely well for someone who had just had a four-hour flight, completed a State visit in Bermuda and who is an 83-year-old grandmother. She did not exude any air of imperial regality but just seemed to be quietly going about her duties with her trademark of handbag and hat. Given Her Majesty’s small stature and her advanced years, the boarding steps seemed very long indeed, with there being no safety provision on them in the event that Her Majesty should slip. Indeed, halfway down the dozen or so steps, Her Majesty did slightly stumble for a split second but quickly regained her poise. She was dressed in a light green, loose-fitting dress. With golden sunshine, blue skies, Her Majesty’s dress, fluttering in the invigorating breeze, fitted in perfectly to the tropical mood.
The Queen’s choice of this naturalistic green also reflected the “green” or ecological theme central to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which she opens today, a fortnight ahead of next month’s United Nations Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In the brief welcoming ceremony at Piarco, Her Majesty was calm yet dignified. Apart from a slight hunch, many observers must surely have wondered at her poise and presence, and asked themselves, is Her Majesty really 83 years old? The whole tone of her arrival was subdued, it lacked the loud brashness of other State visits. There were no crowd-lined avenues to meet the Queen, and at Independence Square in Port-of-Spain itself, not a Union Jack flag to be seen. Roads stayed unblocked. There was no red zone, unlike the Fifth Summit of the Americas last April.
The whole mood may also have been in keeping with a report yesterday from a think tank which questions the future of the Commonwealth.
At Piarco, there were the usual ceremonial formalities — military band, ranks of soldiers and a line of Cabinet Ministers — but somehow the whole organisation of the event seemed deliberately low-key. While many local and British officials fussed for a few frantic moments ahead of her arrival in trying to get everything just right for Her Majesty - “Is my tie straight?”, “Can we shift the red carpet closer to the aircraft?”, the Queen was a picture of serenity, throughout.
When the Royal Couple disembarked they were met by President Richards and his wife, Dr Jean Ramjohn-Richards who wore a simple but bright blue dress, and Prime Minister Manning and his wife, Mrs Hazel Manning, sporting an earthy, brown dress. The Royal Couple then came into view of dozens of primary school children who burst out in a loud cheer. Her Majesty mounted a dais to take the salute.
Soldiers presented arms, while the Defence Force band played the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen”, and the TT anthem, “Forged from the love of liberty”. Her Majesty inspected the front rank only of the assembled soldiers, as the Defence Force Band played the late Ras Shorty I’s “Who Jah Bless”. Also on the tarmac, about 60 children from four nearby primary schools enthusiastically waved red, white and black flags (and a few red, white and blue flags) for Her Majesty. See page 8