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MUCUNGUZI: I carried Queen Elizabeth’s umbrella, had lunch with her

TWO HANDS INSTEAD OF ONE: The Queen did not take offence. Uganda’s Mucunguzi meets Queen Elizabeth. COURTESY FILE PHOTO

SPECIAL FEATURE | THE INDEPENDENT | A Ugandan journalist has shared his memories of meeting the now departed Queen Elizabeth II.

Julius Mucunguzi, who for 10 years worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, however, says he flouted one of the rules of etiquette while at it.

Mucunguzi, who is the communications advisor at the Office of the Prime Minister, had the rare occasion of sitting at the same dining table for a luncheon with Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

In an interview with URN, Mucunguzi says his up-close experience with the Queen came in 2008, just a year after she had visited Uganda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Queen Elizabeth II was attending a Commonwealth day reception on 13 March 2008. “The Queen came greeting guests on that reception. She reached me, I looked at her and she stretched her hand. And I shook her hand,” narrates Mucunguzi.

He was aware of the dos and don’ts to be observed when the Queen was visiting. One of those was that they were not supposed to touch Her Majesty unless she offered her hand. And the other was not to use both hands when shaking the Queen’s hand. Mucunguzi flouted the second rule. He would later share photographs of him using both hands when the Queen offered her hand.

“They had told us how to behave and appear when you are going to be in her presence. But in her presence, all protocol disappeared in my mind. And I put there both hands yet I was supposed to stretch one hand. I said this is not an opportunity that you meet many times, so both hands must be blessed,” Mucunguzi said.

Not surprised, Mucunguzi narrates that the Queen did not take offense but instead went to inquire about where he came from.

Others who have shared about Elizabeth II have indicated that she was always inquisitive and very knowledgeable of the different countries that she had visited.

For the nine years that Mucunguzi worked as a communications expert at the Commonwealth, he had been assigned to manage the media during the Commonwealth Days.

“But also she would attend Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings just like she did in Uganda in 2007. In my role, when she went to the summit in Australia, I was there and coordinated the media. And I was happy to receive her in Sri Lanka,” he said.

He adds that he still carries those memories with him and, after the passing on of the Queen; he feels an icon that has left. He explains that she is synonymous with almost everything that has happened for the last 90 years, 70 of those as a monarch and head of the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday aged 96, led the United Kingdom from post-World War II years, saw the end of colonialism and the birth of the Commonwealth.

The second time Mucunguzi met Queen Elizabeth II was at the residence of the then Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Donald McKinnon. McKinnon one morning surprised Mucunguzi by inviting him to his residence in Central London.

“I had heard that the Queen might be visiting his residence. And this was rare. The Queen doesn’t visit homes. The Queen is found in a palace. Donald McKinnon told me the guest visiting was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” narrated Mucunguzi.

The Mukiga boy from Kabale would then be allowed access to the kitchen to meet a special chef hired to cook for the Queen.

“There were vegetables, there were greens, cabbages, and there was fish. It was a range of foods prepared at measured temperatures, measured quantities,” he said, adding: “Everything they cut into pieces was measured and specific and of precise amounts. It was very clear that those who knew the Queen took seriousness in how they prepared her meal. But what was interesting was that all of us were going to eat on this meal.”

According to Mucunguzi, the Queen arrived in a vintage Rolls-Royce during a heavy downpour.

“The Secretary-General asked me to walk out with an umbrella. I was there with the personal assistant of the Secretary-General called Derrick Ali. So Derrick Ali held the umbrella for Prince Philip and I held one for the Queen and she walked in,” he said.

Mucunguzi draws a distinction between the earlier formal meeting and this one. “You know this was close range. Forget about the receptions that I talked about where everybody would be lining up. In the home of the Secretary-General, there was his son, the Secretary-General, his wife, myself, Derrick Ali, and then the Chef.”   He thought that at some moment, he and Derrick Ali would be asked to leave the dining room for the Queen, her husband, and their hosts to enjoy the sumptuous meal. To his surprise, they were invited to the same table.

“But very pleasantly, I was asked to join the first floor where the dining room was. The Queen was at the head of the table; Prince Charles was next to her. We took different positions, and the chef started doing his work,” Mucunguzi says.

After the luncheon, Mucunguzi and others were asked to excuse themselves from the room for the Secretary-General to have a one-on-one with his royal guest. A few days later, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Donald McKinnon

While it has publicly been declared that Queen Elizabeth was apolitical, Mucunguzi told URN that she was a rallying force in the Commonwealth.

“I must say that there were many disagreements in the Commonwealth. Because there are big countries in the Commonwealth like the UK, Canada, and Australia, then there are developing counties. There are things they agree on and there are things they disagree on. But there was one thing they did not disagree on. It was on the headship of the Commonwealth by the Queen,” Mucunguzi revealed.

Mucunguzi says that Queen Elizabeth II’s messages at the Commonwealth were always calculated. She would speak about very critical issues like the environment and global warming but without digressing into a blame game.



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