When Queen Elizabeth II ducked to avoid an accident in Fiji

Queen Elizabeth had to duck to avoid an accident in Fiji as the driver of the van failed to slow down or stop when approaching a concrete roof area at the entrance to the hospital.

By Asha Chand

While the world is mourning the passing away of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, who served the Commonwealth for 70 years, I am reflecting on my moment of fame “rubbing shoulders” with Her Majesty.

It was November 1, 1982. In January of that year, after completing high school, I had begun my journalism career as a cadet reporter for the then Fiji Sun, a daily newspaper in Fiji which was shut down at gunpoint during the 1987 military coup.

Not trained or told about the etiquette, I was ‘rostered’ to cover the Queen’s visit to Lautoka City, Fiji’s second largest city after the capital, Suva.

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The Queen had arrived in Fiji to a thunderous welcome by the cheering, smiling, carefree Fijian communities who left their homes and paid duties to line up alongside the streets and main roads just to be able to wave to the queen.

I was covering her visit to the town hall where she planted a tree. Not familiar with the British accent, I had extreme difficulty grasping what the queen was saying. I was nervous about ‘missing the story’. Like any journalist would do instinctively, I pushed among the crowds to stand close to the Queen. I remember leaning forward as well. At this point her personal security guard appeared from nowhere, picked me up and put me away.

Dr Asha Chand, with notebook and pencil in hand, standing next to Queen Elizabeth II (Image source: Supplied).

This move sent across a wave of panic among the local Fijian police force. A senior inspector, the late Govind Raju, who had a few months earlier become my good source of information with the police force, came along and issued a strong verbal warning to me.

I am sure the police too did not know about the ‘physical distancing’ rules because I was warned not to speak!

I had no idea about my wrongdoing and continued listening carefully to get an exclusive story on the queen’s query about a tree that Princess Anne had planted as part of her visit to the city some years earlier.

Earlier that day the Queen had visited the Lautoka Hospital and I was instructed to wait for her arrival in the visitors’ lounge. Excited by the crowds of people who had lined up the streets and gathered outside the hospital, I remained outside, excited about seeing the Queen closely. My media pass gave me the opportunity of a privileged view.

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The Queen had to duck to avoid an accident as the driver of the van failed to slow down or stop when approaching a concrete roof area at the entrance to the hospital.

The title of the story was “Queen ducks to avoid accident.”

The Queen came to the throne on 6 February 1952 and her coronation took place on 2 June 1953.

News Clipping from Fiji Sun dated 2 Novemeber 1982 (image source: Supplied).

Today I know that there is ‘no-touch’ rule for example when meeting the Queen. Visitors must wait until she extends her hand to take it. They are not supposed to grip it tightly or pump it, said Rachel Kelly, a public relations executive at VisitBritain, the United Kingdom’s official tourism office.

In 1992, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was assailed by the media when he put his arm around the Queen. It is generally not acceptable to touch Her Majesty in any kind of way, thus one could not hug, kiss on the cheek, or touch the shoulder of the Queen.

In 1997, Fiji’s then Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka (who staged the 1987 military coup when he was brigadier general of the Fiji army), met with the Queen in London without his shoes. Rabuka was following the Fijian tradition of taking off one’s shoes before entering their (hosts) home.

This photo was published in the Fiji Times and in other media across the globe. I was covering the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) for the Fiji Times and other Pacific media in Edinburgh, Scotland.

British women would normally curtsy the queen while men bow their heads when meeting Her Majesty.

Her Majesty’s first Commonwealth tour, as Queen, began on 24 November 1953, and included visits to Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, the Cocos Islands, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Libya, Malta, and Gibraltar. The total distance covered was 43,618 miles.

Contributing Author: Dr Asha Chand is Associate Dean International in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the Western Sydney University, New South Wales.

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