As I saw her pass in her beautiful boat in the Diamond Jubilee pageant under the London rain I could not help to remember her visit of to my school, the British School of Rio de Janeiro, in 1968. The picture above is of her with the head master, I am the third one above his head. Bellow is the description of the day in my book Lost Samba:
There were no classes and excitement filled the air; the school had been covered with Union Jack and Brazilian flags and after they had cleaned up the leaves and rotting fruit the patio looked immaculate. We settled in and waited for the other classes to leave for the assembly hall across the crowded playground. Mrs. Feitosa, our teacher, was a strong blond in her mid forties from Manchester and married to a Brazilian. Her make-up and her fancy dress did not take away her authority as she closed the door and stood in front of the blackboard.
“I want everyone to sit down and listen carefully.”
We stopped whatever we were doing, fell silent, and she continued.
“Good… Can you all hear me? Today everybody must be on their best behavior, was I clear?”
She gave us “the look” from behind her glasses and twisted her thin lips. As by magic, each one of us thought that she was addressing it to him and we were relieved when someone opened the door to say that it was our turn.
“Now I want all of you to hold hands and come with me.”
The grown-ups outside were dressed in their best clothes and were proud of us as we passed. They waved and smiled but at the same time they kept turning their heads around to see if the distinguished guest had already arrived.
When we were about to reach the Hall’s entrance, we heard sirens and Mrs Feitosa stopped to look back. We followed her gaze and saw it happen: no one less than Queen Elizabeth the second, her Majesty, head of the British Crown, was entering the British School of Rio de Janeiro accompanied by her entourage.
She was standing in the open Rolls Royce in a white dress, waving and smiling at the crowd under the rows of palm trees that went from the entrance gate to the playground. Her car was escorted by the most impressive motorbikes that any of us had ever seen. They were huge and loud; enormous radio antennae swayed behind their riders in leather jackets and with dark glasses protected by transparent shields with the emblem of the military police.
Mrs. Feitosa took us out of our trance and told us to get into the hall and climb onto the stage before the grown-ups came in. We were lucky to have the best spot in the hall. When the Queen came in silence fell and the place assumed a dimension that we had never realized it could have. Prince Phillip followed right behind and stopped to talk, out of all people to Sarah, my sister, who was standing in the ex-students’ section. She was amazing: confident and polite.
The pupils selected to perform the leading acts were part of the English thoroughbred clique. The main couple was dressed up in traditional costumes. The boy walked up to Her Majesty and threw his cape on the floor in a chivalrous fashion, then bowed down and shouted out something that I didn’t get but that sounded very appropriate. After the royal approval, she turned to us.
Mrs Feitosa lifted her hand and we sang our part; it was well rehearsed and sounded good to every one’s relief. After the applause there were other presentations and speeches and in the end royal tea cups were handed out. The festivities continued long after she had left. If there ever was a golden day for the British community in Rio, that was it.
The pomp and the festivities were a bit out of tone with what was happening in the country. Political unrest was at its peak, violent confrontations between the police and students escalated to a point where the regime resorted to a massive clamp down imprisoning hundreds of opposition people who would be tortured and killed. In a way the dictatorship used the British royalty’s presence to mask the situation internally and to appear credible externally. It may be no coincidence that a few months later a British company was awarded the contract to construct the Rio-Niteroi bridge across the Guanabara Bay
The video bellow shows the varnished and somewhat uncomfortable stay: