Roger Smith: The time I made the Queen laugh out loud
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip leave from Chelsea Harbour on a launch on the first part of their journey in the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in London on Sunday, June 3, 2012 . (AP /Eddie Mulholland)
Roger Smith, CTV News
Published Monday, June 4, 2012 9:21PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 11, 2012 2:33PM EDT
In his interview with Lisa LaFlamme, Prince Andrew talked about his mother's keen sense of humour but noted that it may not be as apparent to the public as it is in private among family. That reminded me of the day I created quite a stir by making Her Majesty laugh out loud.
It was October of 1986. I was CTV's bureau chief in Beijing and was assigned to cover the Queen's first tour of China. Towards the end of the trip, reporters were invited to a reception in Kunming in southwestern China. As we awaited the arrival of the Royal couple, an aide to the Queen asked if I would like to meet her and, of course, I readily agreed. My father, then editor of The St. Catharines Standard, had met her in 1959 aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia when she came to Canada to open the St. Lawrence Seaway, and I was happy to become the second one in our family to have the honour.
We were organized into small groups for the Queen to move among. I was stationed with two stars of British journalism -- Sue Lawley, anchor of the BBC's Six O'Clock News, and John Gittings, a China specialist with the Guardian. As we chatted nervously, the Queen approached, introductions were made and, surprising to me, she seemed less interested in her famous compatriots than in the young correspondent from the colonies. She talked about her trips to Canada but noted the challenge of time zones -- Philip and I, she said, never know what time it is.
Now I had a time-zone story of my own. Though China is almost as broad as Canada, the entire country officially operates on Beijing time. In the far West, the sun doesn't rise until late morning. It's one of those oddities of China -- imagine the complaints of Vancouverites if they had to live by Toronto's clock.
I had just experienced the disorienting effects first-hand. The Karakorum Highway, the highest international paved road in the world, connects Pakistan with western China. Completed in 1979, it had just been opened to the public, so my cameraman John Jackson and I decided to drive it and file a story on the engineering miracle that had been dubbed the Ninth Wonder of the World. It was a gruelling 1,300-km trip from Abbottabad in Pakistan, winding high into the mountains and down through the desert to Kashgar in China. When we crossed the border at a small post in the 4,693-metre-high Khunjerab Pass, we had to turn our watches four hours ahead. A bright afternoon suddenly became eight o'clock at night.
So when the Queen mentioned the time challenges in Canada, I told her my story, with the punch-line: "It's the only place in the world, Your Majesty, where you can get jet-lag without leaving the ground." Not only did she laugh loudly, she called over Prince Philip from a nearby group and asked me to repeat my story for him. Again she laughed.
Now I was relieved, my fears of embarrassing myself in the presence of Royals replaced by the pleasure of having entertained them. But it was only later that I learned the real significance of the Queen's reaction. When the reception was over, the British media descended on me. I found myself on the wrong side of a scrum, answering the question: "What did you say to make her laugh?" It was apparently something that even reporters on the Royal beat had rarely seen before.
Roger Smith is a parliamentary correspondent for CTV News