Britain’s Queen Elizabeth reacts as she attends a reception in the Ballroom of Sandringham House which is the Queen’s Norfolk residence, with representatives from local community groups to celebrate the start of the Platinum Jubilee, in Sandringham, Britain, February 5, 2022. Joe Giddens/ Reuters

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death Thursday at age 96, San Diegans are recalling her two-day 1983 visit here as part of a 10-day California tour, including the acting mayor’s much mocked “touching” of the royal .

Preston Turegano won a breaking-news award for his coverage of Queen Elizabeth II visit in February 1983.

In his new memoir, former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Preston Turegano devotes 1,200 words to the monarch’s visit with her husband, Prince Philip.

An out gay man, Turegano had lobbied the city editor at the afternoon Tribune to cover her first visit to the Golden State, saying: “After all, I know more about queens — real or pretend — than anyone else at the paper.”

On Feb. 26, 1983, the queen arrived at Broadway Pier aboard the royal yacht Britannia on a cold, rainy and windy morning, he writes in the SDSU Press-published “The Associated Preston.”

“At the pier, approximately 3,000 people braved the blustery weather just to get a glimpse of the monarch when she and her husband disembarked the Navy blue ‘yacht,’ which at 413 feet in length was 137 feet short of the 550-foot-long Pacific Princess, TV’s ‘Love Boat.’”

Turegano continued: “To be standing close enough to see the azure blue eyes of the Queen of England as she and her spouse walked past a throng of reporters behind a roped off area was exhilarating. I — a nobody American commoner —was a witness to a historic event about which I was going to write.”

He said thousands of people unable to get on the Broadway Pier stood at Cabrillo National Monument to watch the Britannia sail in.

“Others in small watercraft were kept well way from the ship by Coast Guard and other security boats,” he said.

That night, the queen hosted a dinner for prominent guests, including U-T publisher Helen Copley and her son, David.

Then-Tribune Editor-in-Chief Neil Morgan, who had commandeered an invitation to the media reception on her yacht but didn’t travel with the queen’s media entourage, ignored British journalists’ admonition not to quote her, saying, “She’s not our queen.”

The next day, Sunday, Turegano saw Elizabeth attend morning prayer — at then-St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, now a “Cathedral Church” near downtown San Diego.

Later, Turegano followed the queen to San Francisco and a visit to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

His story wanted to mention protesters, “but the presence of the comical gay male drag group ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’ dressed in nuns’ habits and wearing pasty white and black Gothic facial makeup was cut from my report.”

He said someone at the Tribune probably didn’t want to offend the Catholic Church or “corrupt the minds of any youngsters. ‘Mommy: When I grow up, I want to be one of them!’”

Turegano’s memoir said the museum willingly went along with a Buckingham Palace request that the closest restroom should “be made appropriate” in the event Her Majesty needed to use “the facility.”

“That museum space turned out to be a men’s restroom, so its wall urinals were covered by cardboard boxes upholstered with copper-colored Moiré silk,” he writes. “Heaven forbid HM’s eyes might see a urinal! It turned out the queen never had the need to relieve herself before, during or after dinner.”

Coverage of queen’s visit by the Times-Advocate of Escondido. Image via newspapers.com (PDF)

Turegano’s coverage won the San Diego Press Club Award for Best Spot (Breaking News) Story of the year — “Queen Elizabeth Arrives in San Diego.”

Another U-T staffer — financial editor Don Bauder — recalled how “San Diego became known as a hick town” when acting Mayor Bill Cleator committed the royal faux pas of touching the queen.

“It was a protocol thing, no doubt — he reached for her hand, maybe. Verboten,” Bauder recalled.

Don Harrison, editor emeritus of San Diego Jewish World, was Cleator’s press secretary at the time. He wrote about her visit in “Schlepping and Schmoozing Along the Interstate 5.”

At the San Diego Museum of Art, where council members and others were to gather in the Sculpture Garden for a brief meet-and-greet, “it began to rain so heavily that the reception was moved inside to the lobby,” Harrison writes. “Everyone knew where they were supposed to stand in the Sculpture Garden, but they had to improvise in the sudden chaos of the museum’s lobby.”

Cleator was able to gather the council for introductions to the royal couple, “but the other guests assembled helter-skelter, leading to some confusion.”

After the council members were introduced to the queen, Cleator looked to her advance team for some direction.

“They motioned him to move to the front door. However, behind them were an invited group of British expatriates, who were calling ‘Your majesty! Your majesty!’ to get her attention. When she started to turn toward them, the advance team again signaled Cleator, this time a bit more urgently, to conduct her towards them.

Irv Erdos column in Escondido paper about queen’s visit. Image via newspapers.com (PDF)

“At that point, Cleator extended his left arm toward the front door, with his right arm going behind the Queen, in a gesture reminiscent of Sir Walter Raleigh. ‘This way, your majesty,’ he said.”

Harrison writes: “A light frown crossed her face before she complied, evidently wishing that she had more time to visit with the British expatriates. ‘Did you see that?’ one of the British press members asked another. ‘Did he touch the queen?’”

The next morning, after the Los Angeles Times had a brief story reporting that the British press had been mumbling about a possible mayoral miscue, Harrison immediately telephoned Cleator, read him the story and asked, “Bill, did you touch the queen?”

“I don’t think so,” he responded, “but if I did, I apologize.”

“You’re certain you don’t remember?” Harrision followed up. “Because as soon as we hang up, some reporter will be phoning me to get a comment.”

“I really don’t remember doing that,” Cleator told his press chief. “What should I do, get out of town?”

“You can’t,” Harrison said with a laugh. “You’re the mayor. But perhaps you could call over to the queen’s party and see if there is any problem.”

No sooner had they hung up, he reported, then his phone rang.

“Hey, Harrison,” asked a reporter. “Did Cleator maul the queen?”

Harrison said Cleator did not remember touching her, but that if he did, he sincerely apologized.

“I must have repeated that story to 20 reporters at least,” he writes.

But KFMB-TV, Channel 8, had filmed the reception and a frame by frame review found Cleator’s hand had brushed the queen’s shoulder ever so slightly.

Preview of queen’s 1983 visit to San Diego. Image via newspapers.com (PDF)

“Triumphantly, the television station drew a circle around that frame of the film to prove that yes, indeed, he did it!”

Cleator spoke to Prince Philip, expressing his consternation over what he might have done.

The Duke of Edinburgh told him: “Don’t worry about it, Bill. It’s just the British press, trying to find something to write about. It’s not a problem,” Harrison writes.

He added: “If I recall correctly, there were 18 stops in all, and each one had to be ‘advanced’ with representatives from the U.S. State Department and Her Majesty’s government.”

He says the queen was scheduled to climb a ladder from one deck to another on the USS Ranger and wrote: “Her loyal team measured the distance between the rungs to make certain that it was no more than 18 inches lest the royal hemline ride up to the royal thigh. The ladder passed muster.”

Bauder said the visit was “such a big deal that we took photos of the ship coming into the harbor from our Mt. Helix home.”

Around that time, Bauder says, somebody asked him if he wanted to interview the crown prince of Denmark.

“I reached out to shake his hand. He didn’t seem rattled when he enthusiastically shook my hand,” he said. “Back in the office, I asked [columnist] Don Freeman if he wanted to shake the hand that had shook the hand of Denmark’s crown prince.

“Don feigned horror, and lectured me that one must not touch a royal. I was a hick from a Chicago suburb and didn’t know such things.”

The royal couple also saw Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park, where the queen “listened to sonnets and unveiled a 6-foot, 200-pound bronze statue of William Shakespeare,” reported the Times-Advocate of Escondido.

Charles New King

Elizabeth’s eldest son Charles, 73, automatically becomes king of the United Kingdom and the head of state of 14 other realms including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. His wife Camilla becomes Queen Consort.

Her family had rushed to be by her side at her Scottish home, Balmoral Castle, after doctors expressed concern about her health. She had been suffering from what Buckingham Palace has called “episodic mobility problems” since the end of last year, forcing her to withdraw from nearly all her public engagements.

Queen Elizabeth II, who was also the world’s oldest and longest-serving head of state, came to the throne following the death of her father King George VI on Feb. 6, 1952, when she was just 25.

She was crowned in June the following year. The first televised coronation was a foretaste of a new world in which the lives of the royals were to become increasingly scrutinised by the media.

“I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust,” she said in a speech to her subjects on her coronation day.

Elizabeth became monarch at a time when Britain still retained much of its old empire. It was emerging from the ravages of World War Two, with food rationing still in force and class and privilege still dominant in society.

Winston Churchill was Britain’s prime minister at the time, Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union and the Korean War was raging.

In the decades that followed, Elizabeth witnessed massive political change and social upheaval at home and abroad. Her own family’s tribulations, most notably the divorce of Charles and his late first wife Diana, were played out in full public glare.

While remaining an enduring symbol of stability and continuity for Britons at a time of relative national economic decline, Elizabeth also tried to adapt the ancient institution of monarchy to the demands of the modern era.

“She has managed to modernise and evolve the monarchy like no other,” her grandson Prince William, who is now heir to the throne, said in a 2012 documentary.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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Ellen Bullock