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Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: A Life in Decades – 1980s

Our series continues with a look at The Queen Mother during my favourite decade: The 1980s.

The 1980s would usher in a disastrous racing season, but the mood would change with The Queen Mother’s eightieth birthday on 4th August.

In May 1980, The Queen Mother made her journey north as she always had for her fortnight of fishing. This year a slight change in plans as she stayed at Craigowan, and not Birkhall. The reason? Her daughter, The Queen, scheduled a new kitchen to be built at Birkhall as a birthday present for her mother.

Her Majesty and Princess Margaret decided that some updates were required as their mother was thrifty when it came down to redecorating and maintenance. Whenever The Queen and her sister chose to refurbish bits here and there, they had to in the same patterns or materials so their mother would not notice.

The celebration of her eightieth birthday continued that May when members of her household and friends gathered together to have a cabin constructed at Polveir, which would allow an opportunity for fishing and dining outside. She was presented with the log cabin on 17 May and continued to use the cabin when on holiday until the day she died.

Celebrations continued with a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on 15th July. She rode with her grandson, Prince Charles, in an open carriage waving to the masses gathered to catch a glimpse of their much-beloved royal.

Those gathered were a testament to the significant role she played following the death of her husband, King George VI.

Two days later, she met with friends and admirers at a special afternoon garden party at  Buckingham Palace. The celebrations would continue with a birthday carnival at St Paul’s Walden Bury, her childhood home. She would have dinner with the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House, and then on 24th July she attended the Royal Tournament.

A special birthday version of the then annual military tattoo was put on show, and comprised all of the numerous units of the armed forces with which she had an association. That evening she hosted a party at Clarence House for the Colonels of all the regiments and other organisations that had taken part in the tattoo earlier that day.

From July until her official birthday, she attended events ranging from the Sandringham Flower Show to the King’s Lynn Festival.

On 4th August 1980, she walked out of the gates of Clarence House to greet the crowds gathered. A fly-past comprising of ten Jet Provosts in E formation occurred at noon. She then enjoyed lunch with Her Majesty, Princess Margaret and a few of her grandchildren.

That evening, her favourite grandchild Prince Charles accompanied her to the Royal Opera House to attend a gala.

The next year would see the addition of her granddaughter-in-law, when Charles announced his engagement on 24th February 1981 to the then Lady Diana Spencer. Diana was invited by The Queen Mother to stay at Clarence House for a few days and attend the dinner party Charles’s grandmother would hold in their honour.

She gifted Diana with a sapphire and diamond brooch to mark their special day.

Charles and Diana would spend time with his grandmother again in March when they came to stay the weekend at Royal Lodge. They attended the Grand Military Meeting at Sandown Park, one of his grandmother’s favourite races. Charles participated in the race, riding Good Prospect in the Gold Cup in which he and the horse fell but walked away unscathed.

In May, her second great-grandchild was born when Princess Anne gave birth to her daughter Zara Phillips. The 1980s would also see the birth of additional great grandchildren – with Prince William in 1982, Prince Harry in 1984 and Princess Eugenie in 1988.

June 1981 would see the Queen Mother have a fall leaving Horse Guards Parade after The Queen’s Birthday Parade. It would be the same parade that saw her daughter keep her composure after she came under fire from someone who had fired blanks from the crowd. Luckily, Her Majesty was on her tried and trusted horse Burmese, and went on as if nothing had happened.

The Queen Mother, despite the injury that was taking an exorbitant amount of time to heal, still continued on with her planned visit to Canada in early July. She would make four trips to Canada during the 1980s. The first, however, was a bit stressful on her injury and she returned in severe pain. Nevertheless, she vowed to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and was resolute on healing in order to attend the wedding of Charles and Diana.

The night before the Royal Wedding, Clarence House was the hub of activity. People were coming and going; bridesmaid dresses were being delivered, and a sense of magic in the air. That evening in Hyde Park, a grand fireworks display was presented and attended by the Royal Family and their guests.

For all the hype that came with the wedding, the evening was rather low key. Her Majesty invited Diana and her sister Lady Jane, the wife of Robert Fellowes, Assistant Private Secretary to The Queen, to stay at Clarence House. There would not be a scheduled dinner party as the sisters dined alone.

The Queen Mother and Diana’s grandmother, Lady Fermoy, enjoyed their dinner in front of the television in the main drawing room.

The spring of 1982 had The Queen Mother carry out military duties as she presented the shamrock to the Irish Guards at Pilbright on 17th March. She went on to visit her regiment, 1st Battalion The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, in Northern Ireland at the end of April.

War broke out in Falklands during this time. No stranger to war, she worried about her grandson Prince Andrew, a naval pilot who was part of the task force on the HMS Invincible.

The summer of 1982 would see an official visit from The President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, in which the Queen Mother would attend the banquet at Windsor Castle. That summer also saw the end of the war in the Falklands.

Her busy summer continued with trips to Glasgow to visit Centenary Service of the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. She made a short two-day visit to Germany to see her regiments, the 9th/12th Royal Lancers and the 1st Battalion The Black Watch. Towards the end of July, she attended a Falklands service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s. She would later act as Counsellor of State, along with Princess Margaret whilst Her Majesty was visiting Australia.

As the end of 1982 became near, she was rushed to hospital when a fish bone became stuck in her throat and had an operation to remove it. As always, she bounced back and resumed her public duties, visiting the Queen Elizabeth 2 liner, the successor to Queen Elizabeth, which she launched in 1938.

In 1983, she was back in Germany, this time presenting shamrocks to the Irish Guards stationed in Munster. The most significant trip of 1983 happened when she visited Northern Ireland. She commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association for Northern Ireland and was asked to return for its 5th anniversary. The trip was leaked to the press and cancelled. They rescheduled the trip, and she flew to Northern Ireland on 20th June to lead the association’s parade at St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena.

1984 would see The Queen Mother back in hosptial. On 30 June, she was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in Marleyborne to have a lump removed from her breast.

The highlight of the Queen Mother’s racing career came in 1984 when Special Cargo won the Whitbread Gold Cup, coming from a rather hopeless standing to nick a victory in a three-way photo-finish. She ended up receiving the trophy she was slated to present.

After this, through the 1980s, her health remained well. She insisted using herbal and homoeopathic medicines and powders. Her main difficulty were the lesions on her legs. She also  suffered additional intermittent obstructions in her throat. In August 1986, she choked at dinner one evening at Mey and declined all help until Britannia arrived the next day, when she grudgingly consented to a call from the ship’s doctor.

In October 1986 she stepped on a piece of wood whilst walking in Scotland. Not one to be stopped by what she deemed as a minor injury, she ignored the recommendation she not stand and went about with life.

A month later her leg was inflamed but the resilient Royal carried out Remembrance Day duties.

The Queen Mother loved her trips to Canada and embarked on numerous visits during the 1980s. In 1987, she visited Montreal to participate in the 125th anniversary commemorations of her regiment, the Black Watch of Canada.

The visit would be of strong political importance as she was the first member of the Royal Family to return to Quebec since the 1960s. Yes, her daughter visited in 1967 for the Montreal Expo and again in 1974 for the Olympics, but did not leave the grounds of either during the events.

The Queen Mother’s final trip to Canada occurred shortly before her 89th birthday. She embarked on a busy summer, much more was on the books then your typical 88-year old woman, but she was not most women.

After the inauguration of two oilfields in Aberdeen, she made a private visit to the Languedoc in France. She then went on to commemorate the tenth anniversary of becoming lord warden of the Cinque Ports with a visit to Dover  aboard The Britannia. She then sailed to Caen, France and went on to Bayeux unveiling a memorial window at the Bayeux Cathedral. During her visit, she attended a service commemorating the D-Day landings.

Other various engagements were scheduled in on her calendar. From a visit to Newcastle to hosting a reception at Clarence House for French Resistance members and the RAF Escaping Society.

The last trip to Canada began on 5th July when she made her way to Ottawa. She drove through the city in the same open vehicle she and her husband, King George VI, used during their visit in 1939.

During her visit, she stopped to inspect a combined guard of honour of her two regiments, the Toronto Scottish and the Black Watch of Canada in Toronto.

Her last engagement in Canada was fitting as she attended the 130th Queen’s Plate Stakes at Woodbine. She would be asked to visit Canada again in the nineties, but decided to end the long tours and visits.

For someone in her eighties, there was no stopping The Queen Mother. Besides travel, she added to her massive list of patronages and charities.

The Queen Mother would start to slow down in the next decade, not always by her choice.

Featured photo credit: Royal Photography by Paul Ratcliffe

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