Early on the morning of the royal wedding in 1947, my best friend, Lucy Pollen, and I went to Mass at our school, St Mary’s Convent in Ascot. We prayed for two things: first, for the happiness of the royal couple; and second, that we would get away with sneaking out of school to see them. Both our prayers were answered.
After Mass, I discovered quite by chance that I had a really appalling toothache, and by an extraordinary coincidence, Lucy realised she had a frightful headache. So, under the cover of our illnesses, we two 15-year-old girls were able to slip out of school and get the train to London.
We couldn’t get there early enough to go to Westminster Abbey, so we gathered around the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. It was very crowded, and there were lots of people in uniform. Remember, it was only two years after the end of the war, and people didn’t just take off their uniforms in 1945.
We were like a crowd waiting at a film premiere for a glimpse of the stars. When the royal couple arrived back at the Palace from the Abbey, we rushed the gates and got inside. By today’s standards, there was a fantastic lack of security. Nobody locked the gates. But sadly we were asked to leave!
The Queen was a very pretty young woman. She was a real figure of glamour back then, and Prince Philip was extremely good-looking, too. Her dress was beautiful. It was a wonderful, gleaming affair with a huge train.
In 1947, food and clothing were still rationed. So out of love and loyalty, people sent their clothing coupons to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s wedding dress, but the coupons were sent back.
What is the secret of the longevity of the marriage of the Queen and Prince Philip? My parents, Frank and Elizabeth Longford, were also married for 70 years, so inevitably I compare the two marriages. In the case of my parents, they loved each other, but they also liked each other’s company. I imagine the same is true of the Queen and Prince Philip.
I think he has got a great sense of humour. Some of his jokes are a bit off, but I genuinely find them funny. I like his so-called gaffes. We can’t be serious all the time.
For her part, the Queen is brilliant in her reserve. I suspect that is instinctive. Also, whether you are a monarchist or republican, I don’t think you could doubt that she has a tremendous sense of duty.
The royal wedding of 1947 was a marvellous occasion. I came away thinking, “Fairy tales do happen. Some day my prince will come!”
Lucy and I were ecstatic when we got back to the dorm at the convent and told the other girls about the day. We had to keep a straight face in front of the nuns. I’m sure they had an idea of what we had been up to, but I was never officially punished.
Did I feel guilty about it? No, I was thrilled I had got away with it. My prayers had been answered.
As told to James Rampton
Elizabeth and Philip: Love and Duty is on Monday 9.00pm BBC1