Few are aware that DaC Board member Tom Whitbread has had a double
life over the past 17 years, being also one of the Queen Mother's
chauffeurs. This is his story...
Seventeen years ago, a very good friend of mine asked if I would help him
out by working part time as a chauffeur for his company. As I had done this
type of work in the past, helping him out was no problem but he hadn't
indicated for whom I'd be working in this capacity. He just asked me to be
available on a particular morning. When I arrived, he said I was to go to
Marlborough House and contact Her Majesty, the Queen Mothers Head Chauffeur.
It was a sunny August day, the day after Her Majesty's birthday
and she was off to Scotland for her annual holiday. My job that day was to
transport some of her staff and belongings to Heathrow for the Royal Flight.
I did not realise at the time that over the next seventeen
years, I would be travelling to various parts of England and Scotland and
meeting people that you would not normally see, but only read about in
The Queen Mother had three permanent chauffeurs, John, Arthur
and Shaun; Shaun came a few years after I started. If any of them had to
travel to another part of the country to await Her Majesty's arrival, I
could be called upon to cover for them. Sometimes it would work in reverse
and I would drive or fly up to Scotland on the Royal Flight to await her
arrival. Whilst I was travelling around, I would get to stay at Birkhall and
Castle Mey in Scotland, the official residences of Her Majesty.
It was during these times in Scotland that I first got to meet
Her Majesty. Occasionally as I walked around the estates, I would meet her
coming the other way walking her much loved corgis. Being such a lovely
person, she would always stop and talk to you and despite her age, would
remember all of the conversations for a future meeting.
Prior to the last few years, Her Majesty always went to the
theatre on her birthday and then flew off the next day to Scotland. As her
birthday was the day before her Scottish holiday, two of her chauffeurs
would have been despatched in readiness for her arrival. This being the
case, I would get a call to drive the second car for her guests to the
theatre and it was during these engagements that I saw how much the public
loved her - showering her with gifts, cheering and pushing forward just to
try to talk to her.
On the night of her 90th birthday and as we drove around
Trafalgar Square on route to the Royal Opera House with police motorcycles
escorting us, a lady suddenly spotted the car with it's
Farewell, Ma 'am
famous passenger. In her excitement to get closer, she turned quickly but
her feet got tangled and she fell forward just missing the Daimler and the
police backup, but falling right in front of the car that I was driving. It
must have been her lucky day as I missed her by inches.
Her Majesty was due to leave the Royal Opera House before the
surrounding theatres turned out, but as usual she would not rush meeting
people in the theatre. As we waited outside, the news that the Queen Mother
was at the Opera House spread and the crowd grew. This caught the police off
guard and by the time she came out of the theatre, the crowd had grown
to a few thousand and were blocking the road! It was up to the police
outriders, John Collins (her chauffeur) and myself with Viscount Linley in
the car, to try and ease our way gently through the crowds without injuring
I have seen how calm she could be when all hell broke loose; we
were waiting outside the RAF church in the Strand whilst Her Majesty
unveiled a statue of Bomber Harris. In the crowd were a large group of
rioters who tried to break forward and cause trouble, but the Queen Mother
just carried on fulfilling her duty.
100th Birthday Pageant
She was a lady who had a great sense of humour and enjoyed a good
laugh, as on the evening of her 100th birthday pageant. The Queen Mother set
off in the horse drawn carriage accompanied by Prince Charles to great
screams and cheers. A police car containing her bodyguards followed the
carriage, and I followed in the Daimler with Backstairs Billy and her
corgi's ready for the parade.
As I entered The Mall, the cheers and screams were just as loud
as when the Queen Mother
had passed by and I could see the bodyguards looking back to see what the
fuss was about!
Curiosity got the better of me and I looked around to find
Billy with one of the corgis on his lap and he was waving the dog's paw to
the crowd! It was obvious that the next day there would be the dog's photo
in the newspapers, which caused the Queen Mother to laugh!
When Her Majesty went on holiday, she would take as many
of the flowers she had received as gifts or from her many gardens, with her.
On her birthday, the flowers that arrived at Clarence House would have
filled many a florists shop. As she was leaving the next day, those she
could not take with her on the Royal Flight were sent to children's or
specialist hospitals. It would take two chauffeurs all day to distribute
these beautiful floral tributes.
The last official engagement on which I met Her Majesty was the
Warrant Holders Christmas cocktail party. I now own the company I started
with 17 years ago and hold the Royal Warrant for the late Queen Mother. At
that party was the first time I'd seen her going around to everyone present
and greeting them, but this time in a wheelchair. Using the wheelchair or
walking sticks was one thing that she had always tried to avoid and for the
past few years I had transported those wheelchairs and sticks many times,
returning them unused.
Being allowed to get so close to the Royal family when they
were accompanying the Queen Mother, I could see the admiration and respect
they had for her. I also saw how a child's face would light up when the
Queen Mother approached or spoke to them. She had a way of speaking to
people that seemed to shut out the rest of the world, making that
person feel the most special human being.
One thing that none of her staff or bodyguards would ever try
and do is rush her if she was talking to someone on a visit or in a crowd.
She was renowned for leaving late; it was a nightmare for her chauffeurs to
ensure that she arrived for the next appointment on time.
I feel privileged to have known this great lady who travelled
the world encouraging people from a multitude of countries to visit this
country, thus bringing in a large amount of revenue.
At The End of a Wonderful Life...
On Friday 5 April, I drove some of her family and top staff to Westminster
Hall for the lying in state. Although due to age, it had been expected, her
death was still a great shock to all who knew the great lady. The look on
their faces told of their loss of a Queen and a friend, this was also
extended to the crowds lining the pavements. The tears in the eyes of the
elderly right down to young children - although they may not have met her
personally - showed how much this lady was loved and respected, a person
never to be replaced.
I know that I will miss the lady I have grown to know so well over
the last seventeen years, I will personally miss her. This is the last time
I will say "Farewell Ma'am".