by Anura Guruge
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Doing the post on the Queen’s Christmas address yesterday, and then a couple of comments that ensued on Facebook, reminded me of a cute story involving my adoptive mother and the Queen.
My adoptive mother over the years had met the Queen socially on a number of occasions — and there is a possibility that my mother spent some time with the Queen. That would have been in 1954 when the Queen visited Ceylon. My adoptive father was at that time the private secretary to the Prime Minister and as such was heavily involved with the visit and would have been at all the events and receptions — often with my mother. I was but 7 months old at the time and do not remember any of it. But, from what I recall from later snippets, they might have gone to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa with the Queen — on the official train. ‘They’ (i.e., the ‘government’) would definitely would have wanted my father around. He, though only 25 years old at the time, had a Ph.D. and was an acknowledged scholar and history buff. My mother and the Queen would have been 4 years apart in age, my mother born in 1930.
Anywho … my mother met the Queen, at least a few times. starting in 1954.
To say that my mother was a people person would not even get close to the truth. She had an exceptional capability. She has been compared to Mother Teresa and Princess Diana in that respect. There was something about her — it was organic and chemical. People were drawn to her and she to them. She was rarely without a smile and people somehow detected this amazing warmth she had for all — strangers in particular. All her life she had this child-like quality of innocence. She was totally without guile and people recognized that. She, from a young age, collected people’s contact information and birthdays. She had bulging address books and was diligent at sending birthday and Christmas cards. In her 40s she would send out 400 — 600 handwritten Christmas cards per year. She would start in mid-November.
OK … Somewhere during these meetings with the Queen she believes that she got the Queen’s personal contact information. It is possible. She might not have got it directly, but it is likely that it was given to her by one of the Queen’s staff. I never asked, but it is likely that the Queen got birthday and Christmas cards from my mother.
From 1968 when my father joined UNESCO to her death in 1992 she was very much a part of the European diplomatic circle. She socialized with Heads of State on a regular basis and to her they were always friends first and Heads of State second.
In late 1984, when my father was the Sri Lanka Ambassador in Paris, my mother answered the phone, in their official residence, in a fancy apartment block, very early in the morning. A stranger on the line informed her that this was going to be my father’s last day on earth and that he planned to assassinate my father before the day was done. He then hung up. Threats on my father’s life were not new and we had lived with it since the 1960s — given that he was a highly political figure. She did not rush off an and tell my father. Instead she calmly made one phone call — and this was around 7:30 in the morning. My father got out of bed because he could hear a lot of commotion around the building. He looked out. There were armoured cars and military personnel with heavy weaponry. Police cars with sirens followed.
That was when my mother informed him of the call. He asked her if she had called the police — though that is NOT what diplomats are supposed to do. They have a special ‘diplomat protection’ number to call. My mother hadn’t not called that number or the police. She had called President François Mitterrand, at home — on his personal line! I kid you not. She knew him and he had told her to call him if she ever needed anything. She took things like that literally. Appears that Mitterrand, her friend, was cool. Told her not to worry and that he would deal with it himself. Hence the army presence ahead of the police. I gather he called up later to make sure all was OK. Over the next few weeks he would have received a stream of flowers, chocolates and other gifts from my mother. So … my mother did not hesitate about calling Heads of State.
This was 1983. I had finally got fed up of trying to travel on a Sri Lanka passport — especially since I had to make business trips, on no-notice, on a regular basis. So, I decided to apply for British Citizenship. That was not going to be problem. I have lived, full time in the UK for 15 years, had an unlimited work permit and had been married to a British citizen for 9 years. So, I applied. And it dragged on.
One day, in late 1983, my mother, as was her wont, had called from Paris to see how things were.
I happened to mention that I was getting frustrated that I had not heard anything about my citizenship.
And she then says, quite casually: “Do you want me to CALL the Queen?”
I kid you not. To her this was nothing. No big deal. She would just call up the Queen. And she would have.
I was mortified. “Amma, NO. NO. It is OK. Don’t call the Queen. That might be overkill”.
She eventually decided to call a MP (i.e., Member of Parliament) she knew. He called me to ask for details!
I did get my citizenship paper, in the mail, shortly afterwards THOUGH I am not sure whether the MP had any hand in that.
But, I still remember: “Do you want me to CALL the Queen?”
There is no shadow of a doubt that she thought she could get through to the Queen. But, we will never know.
by Anura Guruge