Lunch with The Queen

Recounting their own personal experiences, members of BASC staff and Council remember a remarkable monarch who held a deep love for the countryside.

Many of us who shoot have long considered the Royal Family a champion of what we do and what we stand for. Some might take comfort from the British monarchy’s clear grasp of the hows and whys of practical countryside management.

The truth is, the Royal Family have been synonymous with country pursuits and conservation for many years. King George VI is still quoted in every issue of one of Britain’s oldest sporting titles: “The wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after.”

Today the royals are more reserved in their reference to time spent ‘in the field’. And yet, there is no doubt that during her extraordinary reign, Her Majesty The Queen not only nurtured a passion for much of what we as shooters hold dear, but also a remarkable understanding of the many facets of fieldsports and country life.

Beyond the stories of Sandringham shooting parties and Balmoral stalking trips that have found their way into the mainstream press over the years exist honest and insightful accounts that allude to Her Majesty’s interests and character. Among these are the memoirs of BASC staff and Council members who were fortunate enough to meet The Queen in person at Buckingham Palace luncheon parties.

Ian Grindy – BASC Council member and former gamekeeper

“The Queen would like to invite you to a small luncheon party at Buckingham Palace.  Are you able to attend?” This was an invitation I received via a phone call from a senior official at Buckingham Palace and, as you can imagine, I wasn’t sure the call was genuine at first. But when the formal invitation arrived, I knew this was the real thing. 

When I arrived in London on the night before the event, I was very nervous. When I learned the names and status of the other invited guests, I became even more nervous. As far as I was concerned, I was out of my depth!

But I needn’t have worried. As I was about to discover, Her Majesty had time for everybody, and she was more interested in your experiences of life than anything to do with status.

At lunch I was seated next to The Queen, on her left, but I was unaware of all the protocols attached to such an event. When I heard Her Majesty speaking about one of her dogs, one well known in the gundog world, I made the mistake of speaking first and most definitely out of turn. I was politely and very discreetly made aware of this by a member of staff, who whispered very quietly in my ear, telling me how The Queen would speak to me shortly, after the first course had finished.

So, when The Queen did turn to speak to me, I felt obliged to apologise for breaking protocol. Sensing my discomfort, Her Majesty replied, “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t notice.” 

She then went on to tell me that I’d had a very interesting life, an observation that amazed me, considering that the most famous woman in the world should consider my life even faintly interesting.

Her Majesty spoke about many things, but she was particularly interested in the Trough of Bowland where I’d worked as an estate manager for 17 years. She loved the area, the people and the landscape. She considered Bowland to be an amazing place, where rivers, streams, pasture, woodland, and the high moorlands merged to create an amazing mosaic for wildlife.

She remembered her visits to the area with great fondness and spoke of her pleasure at meeting with the ‘keepers on the Abbeystead Estate, a place she often visited with her dogs during the shooting season.

I also took the opportunity to thank The Queen for her generosity in allowing the Sandringham Estate to be used for a fundraising clay pigeon shoot in support of the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust. This had raised a great deal of money for the Trust, and she was delighted.

An opportunity to dine with The Queen was an incredible experience. It also taught me a lot about Her Majesty’s own personality. She had many great qualities, but the ones that stand out for me are those of modesty and empathy, and how she used these to good effect in making me feel at ease in her presence. That was special, and I will never forget it.

Bill Harriman – BASC director of firearms

We’re having lunch at Buckingham Palace….

My initial reaction to the telephone call from Her Majesty’s Equerry inviting me to lunch was to dismiss it as a jape by one of the many pranksters I count as my friends.

However, it proved to be kosher, and I duly presented myself at the palace in my best bib and tucker.

After lunch I was in the group having coffee with The Queen. She was exceptionally well briefed and knew everything about me. 

At the time, I was doing some consultancy work for Holt’s Auctioneers who are tenants on the Sandringham Estate.

“Are you still assisting Mr Holt with his old blunderbusses, Mr Harriman?”

“Yes Ma’am, we occasionally fire some of the more interesting guns on the marshes.”

“I know, we hear them.”

“I hope the noise does not inconvenience you, Ma’am.”

“Not at all, we rather enjoy it!”.

The conversation then turned to The Queen’s Pages. I told Her Majesty that I had sold a Page’s sword when I was in the auction business. It made a good price, as examples are never seen on the market.

Her Majesty raised an eyebrow and fixed me with a steely gaze. “I’m not surprised, they are supposed to return them after leaving my service. Hmm, selling stolen property; that’s naughty, Mr Harriman,” she observed with a wry smile.

Peter Glenser – former BASC chairman

It started, as these things apparently do, with a telephone call to my mobile. The line was exceptionally poor and kept dropping out, but I made out the words Buckingham Palace, lunch and Her Majesty The Queen.

Like Bill, I assumed that I was the victim of an elaborate practical joke – right up until the postman delivered my invitation and security pass.  

So it was that a few weeks later, shoes polished until they looked like they were made of black glass, with freshly starched collar and knife-sharp creases in my suit trousers, I handed my credentials to the police officer at Buckingham Palace and was whisked through the gates and into the palace.

Very shortly afterwards I found myself chatting to the other guests and also Her Majesty’s Equerry who quietly informed me that I would be sitting next to The Queen at lunch, on her left.

Her Majesty’s love of the countryside and nature is well known. I had known that she would be deeply knowledgeable about all matters shooting and she was most certainly that. What took me by surprise was The Queen’s fantastic sense of humour, which included a very mischievous streak.

She spoke not only of various issues of concern but also about some of the people with whom the shooting community don’t perhaps have common cause. She was extremely funny about them and surprisingly forthright – all delivered with that extraordinarily powerful and utterly disarming smile.

Ian Bell - BASC chief executive

From famous sportspeople to business luminaries and important civil servants, Her Majesty’s private luncheons often brought together 10 or a dozen people who were engaged either in areas she had a personal interest in, or areas the royal household has a link to.  

That BASC staff have been invited to attend over the years is a true privilege and a recognition of how important what we do was to Her Majesty. It says much of the association’s standing and The Queen’s own interest in what we stand for.

As you’d expect, the lunches are immaculately organised. After dining, guests stayed for coffee. I suppose how long you stayed depended on Her Majesty’s schedule and how interested she was in the topics she might discuss with her guests.

From the conversations that I had with Her Majesty, a few things were apparent. Firstly, her sense of humour was wicked, with – for want of a better word – a mischievous edge.

Secondly, she had a great knowledge of shooting and conservation. Yes, she was well briefed, but it was more than that; it was a deep understanding of the challenges we face as a community.

Crucially, while Her Majesty came across as very confident and strong, she was also remarkably personable and engaging.

She listened and put people at ease. Meeting her first hand on behalf of BASC and its members was a real privilege.