Queen Mother was ‘full of vitality’ during final public outing months before death

Queen Mother's response to faux pas discussed by Rinder

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Today marks two decades since the death of the Queen Mother. The Royal Family’s matriarch died at her home in Windsor, having suffered from a bad cough and chest infection. She was the widow of King George VI and mother of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and her younger sister Princess Margaret. 

Since the death of her husband, the Queen Mother maintained her public duties in the UK and overseas for 50 years, including over 40 official visits abroad and acting as royal patron or President of some 350 organisations.

She continued carrying out her royal engagements up until just four months before her death.  

Her final public outing was the recommissioning of the aircraft carrier, Ark Royal, at a ceremony in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

The Queen Mother had previously launched HMS Ark Royal in the Swan Hunters Shipyard, Wallsend in 1981.

Until her death in 2002, she maintained a close relationship with the ship and its crew, and served as the company’s patron. 

The ship’s commanding officer, Captain David Snelson, said during her visit that she was “full of life and vitality”.

He added: “She was a wonderful inspiration. She had that special ability to talk to people of all levels. She had a very human touch.”

In November 2001, at the age of 101, she joined the 1200 crew members and their families to rededicate the ship after a major refit.

At the ceremony to recommission the ship, the Queen Mother said: “I’m so happy that I’m once again onboard Ark Royal… you see, I launched her and her predecessor.

“So it’s wonderful to feel that now she’s going to be at sea and she’s guarding our shores just as in the days of yore.

“She is a wonderful ship and I hope you will all be happy in her.”

Following the engagement, the Queen Mother was bedridden at Sandringham and suffered from a persistent cold over the Christmas period. 

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In January 2002, she was forced to cancel one of her regular engagements in Norfolk – a meeting of the Women’s Institute at the Royal Family’s home on the Sandringham Estate. 

Instead, the Queen attended and passed on her mother’s disappointment that she could not be present.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: “Queen Elizabeth did not attend today’s Women’s Institute meeting at Sandringham House.

“She is still resting from the bug she caught at Christmas and continuing her recovery.”

By that point, the Queen Mother had not been seen in public for more than two months. 

Despite missing multiple engagements and traditional church services at Sandringham, the Queen Mother was determined to attend the funeral of her younger daughter Princess Margaret, who passed away on February 9, 2002. 

She attended the private funeral service on February 15 in a people carrier with blacked-out windows, shielded from the press, so that no photographs of her in a wheelchair could be taken.

The Queen Mother’s health continued to deteriorate over the following weeks. 

She retreated to the Royal Lodge for the final time, and died on March 30, 2002 with her eldest daughter, the Queen, by her side. 

In April 2002, Captain Snelson and members of the crew spoke of their fond memories of the Queen Mother. 

The Captain said all the crew felt a “personal loss because she had meant so much to us”.

The Queen Mother’s funeral was held at Westminster Abbey the following week. 

She was later buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle alongside George VI and their daughter Princess Margaret.

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