The Queen and Nelson Mandela 'hit it off' says royal biographer
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Queen Elizabeth II’s extraordinary reign was celebrated at her Platinum Jubilee earlier this month. This year marks the 70th anniversary since the 96-year-old monarch succeeded her father King George VI as Sovereign upon his death in 1952. As Britain’s longest reigning monarch, the Queen has met dozens of world leaders – from Winston Churchill to Donald Trump. In Her Majesty’s Jubilee year, royal historian Hugo Vickers has picked out some of her most outstanding moments on the world stage, and how she has performed a “soft power” role for Britain at key moments throughout history.
The biographer, who knows the Queen personally, has helped plan several of her previous jubilees and also worked on the Platinum Jubilee.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Vickers highlighted a special moment between the monarch and Nelson Mandela, who was “charming” during his four-day state visit to Britain in 1996.
He said: “She was very excited about all that because she’d been to South Africa in 1947.
“And then, of course, South Africa left the Commonwealth on account of apartheid and things.
“When Nelson Mandela came to power, they re-joined the Commonwealth.
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“In 1994, she went over there. And then he came over here in 1996 on a state visit.”
He added: “I remember seeing him because he came to plant a tree very early in the morning in St James’s Park.
“And he walked from the Palace, with people behind him like the pied piper.
“It was fascinating and then he planted this tree, and he was so charming.”
The Queen met Mr Mandela, who died in 2013, on several occasions, including in 1995, the year after his ANC party swept to power.
The country’s General Election was hugely significant as black and white citizens were both able to cast their votes following decades of apartheid.
Mr Mandela – who had been a prominent civil rights activist – was released from prison in 1990 and apartheid was repealed a year later.
After being elected South African President, he was treated like royalty on his visit to Britain.
During the trip, Mr Mandela and the Queen “got on very well”, according to Mr Vickers, who revealed what he said as he planted a tree near Buckingham Palace.
He said: “He said, ‘I will obviously not be able to look after this tree and water this tree and nurture this tree and you must nurture this tree and look after it for us’.
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“He was so charming. And then he walked back, and it was possible for some people to run up beside him and ask him a question – unheard of really with a state visitor.
“He was terribly popular, and they got on very well together.
“He was supposed to have called her by her Christian name or something, and she didn’t mind, but I don’t know about that, but it’s quite possibly true.”
During his 1996 trip to the UK, Mr Mandela was driven through the streets of London and visited Brixton.
In his meetings with the Queen, Mr Mandela was one of the only people who referred to her by her first name, according to his former personal assistant Zelda la Grange, who published a memoir, ‘Good Morning, Mr Mandela’.
In the book she wrote: “On a visit to Britain, I was struck by the warm friendship between Madiba and the Queen.
“‘Oh Elizabeth,’ he would say when he greeted her, and she would respond: ‘Hello, Nelson.’
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