Thursday, 2 June 2016

Coronation Reminiscences


Sixty-three years ago, the Lady Moyra Hamilton (now the Lady Moyra Campbell CVO, sister of the present Duke of Abercorn) walked up the aisle of Westminster Abbey behind the soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth II - one of just six Maids of Honour.

Lady Moyra has kept her Norman Hartnell gown, her beautiful long white gloves and the glittering tiara - souvenirs of a day that stands out in a life-time.

Lady Moyra, who now lives in Randalstown, County Antrim, said it was one of the "most thrilling days of a lifetime."

"Television made it a world-wide happening. You felt that everybody was there and with this very young lady who was making these incredibly solemn promises which she has fulfilled with the utmost grace and integrity for 60 years. 

"There were so many highlights. The amazing feeling in the abbey; the incredible prayerfulness throughout and the sight of all those crowds who had been waiting in appalling weather all night; some of them had been there overnight, others had been there from early the day before. 

"The rain was teeming down and yet there was this joyful feeling and the abbey was full of people from all over the globe."

All this happened in the days when not everyone had a television set at home, she said, and people invited others to cluster around their sets, gathering in living rooms across the country to watch the glamour and the ceremony, to toast the new young Queen.

The Queen's maids of honour had a rehearsal where they practised holding the long train which had six secret silk handles.

"We met the coach on arrival, from then on, we were holding the train because it was very very long," said Lady Moyra.

"The mistress of the robes, the Queen's senior female servant, was in charge of us. She had to officiate when the train came off and the Queen had this very simple white linen dress put over her highly embroidered dress for the sacred anointing of the oil that has gone on from time immemorial.

"We heard the Queen Mother whispering to Prince Charles, telling him what was happening. He behaved impeccably. It was a lovely moment," she said.

Later back at the palace, he and Princess Anne were running about.

"He was wearing his father's hair lotion to smooth his hair and we had to sniff it and admire it," she laughed.

Other proud moments stand out in that day, 2 June, 1953.

"In the morning, before I was collected, we all had to have make-up put on. Just as the lady was putting on the make-up, someone burst into the room and said: 'Thrilling news, Mount Everest has been conquered. Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing have conquered Mount Everest. 

"I was so excited that the tears poured down my cheeks and the poor lady had to have a quick mopping up of the mascara, replacing it. I heard rumours later that the news had been kept back for the day, but it was a wonderful feeling."

The maids of honour had very long gloves and were given capsules which contained a substance like smelling salts in case any of them became faint.

"Anne Coke did begin to droop and I was able to crush the thing and it let out an enormously strong smell but she gallantly revived," she explained.

For Lady Moyra, the day will always stand out as a wonderful occasion. She kept her gown in a darkened room and it is still very beautiful.

"Hopefully, I will be able to make the dress available for people to see ... Any schools who wish to bring their pupils can do so, as long as it is somewhere where it can be well protected against eager fingers," she said.

And she hopes to raise money too, for charities that help young people.

First published in April, 2012.

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