In the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death Thursday at age 96, San Diegans are recalling details of her two-day 1983 visit here as part of a 10-day California tour.
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 and 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.”
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.
“As I recall, he explained that he thought she was tottering while boarding a ship, and he meant to stabilize her,” Bauder told Times of San Diego. “But it was certainly something else. It was a protocol thing, no doubt — he reached for her hand, maybe. Verboten.”
(Wikipedia reports: “Trying to be helpful on a harbor tour, he lightly touched the queen’s back and said ‘This way, your Majesty.’” )
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.