For reasons that remain a mystery, in the summer of 2010, my bosses at the Toronto Star asked me -- normally an architecture critic and urban affairs columnist -- to cover the upcoming Royal Tour. I still don’t understand why, but it wasn’t an assignment I could refuse. Not that I was a monarchist -- far from it. I’ve always thought of the monarchy as a remnant of an earlier, even less egalitarian age. In my mind, kings and queens have no place in the modern world.

On the other hand, who could resist an opportunity to see up close the workings of a Royal Tour? This one, which featured the Queen sans Prince Philip, was not particularly exciting. To be honest, it turned out to be mind-numbingly dull. It consisted mainly of waiting and waiting and waiting some more.

It had never occurred to me that the Royal Family’s attitude to the press was that they should be neither heard nor seen. Most of the 10-day ordeal was spent standing, rain or shine, waiting for the Queen to pass by, studiously ignoring the media cameras, notepads and anxious faces. Often we were held behind ropes, corralled like cattle as far way as possible. Only the electrified fencing was missing.

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Despite the talk about the monarchy’s newfound media savvy, that was not much in evidence during the Queen’s visit. She might have grasped the usefulness of television coverage and photo ops, but her embrace of the fourth estate did not extend to talking to or acknowledging the media. 

The tour began in Halifax during a downpour of biblical proportions. It wasn’t just a deluge, it was torrential, inundating, drenching, a veritable monsoon. Standing, waiting for the Queen’s plane to land, being soaked to the skin took on new meaning. Shoes squelched. Jackets, shirts and trousers clung. Blackberries stopped working. 

Then, just as The Royal Flying Machine entered local airspace, the rain ceased, clouds parted and the sun shone. It was almost enough to convince one that maybe there was something to the divine right of kings (and queens) after all.

Certainly, that would have come as no surprise to the British press contingent. This gaggle of reporters, commentators and photographers followed the Queen obediently wherever she travelled. They talked about her and her family like a room full of birders trading stories about their latest avian sighting. They knew royal protocol backwards and forwards. Any breach in etiquette was greeted with howls of outrage. The loudest outburst came during the running of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack, which the Queen attended with unfeigned delight. Her love of horses was plain to see. But when the owner of the winning nag, unable to contain his joy, put his arm around Queen Elizabeth, the UK press went wild. 

Cries of “Did you see what he just did?” could be heard from one end of the press compound to the other. The Brits were appalled -- no -- offended, and let us colonial interlopers know. For a minute it seemed fistfights might ensue. For them the breach was a personal affront. The English media doesn’t just cover the Queen; they were her guardians, protecting her against any transgression that might occur. 

It confirmed their belief that Canada was a nation of vulgarians, badly dressed and hopelessly ignorant of how to behave in the presence of Royalty. Perhaps we weren’t quite as bad as Americans, and especially their ex-president Donald Trump, but Canadians needed a lesson or two in how to behave appropriately.

As for the Queen herself, she seemed most at home among horses. Though fans shadowed her every step and were content to wait for hours in the (often vain) hope of catching a glimpse of the regal visage as she drove by in the backseat of her limousine at some ungodly hour of the day or night, she was usually in too much of a hurry to stop and chat.

Yet through it all, the Queen’s ability to inspire love and affection was undimmed. At the age of 84, tiny, perfect and, well, regal, she was indomitable. She carried on regardless. Halifax, Winnipeg, Toronto, it made no difference. The people’s adoration was as genuine as it was predictable. And so was her commitment to her role; it was as visible as the pastel coloured clothing she favoured. 

Despite the tedium, not even a diehard anti-monarchist could help but admire the Queen. Royalty may or may not have a place in the 21st century, but there’s always room for the grace and sense of duty she brought to her role. That’s what I will remember.

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