‘This Gleaming Lady’ — How the Express reported the Queen’s accession

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953

It has been a whole year since Britain’s longest-serving monarch died, aged 96, news which shook not only the UK but the world, with mourners paying their respects from far and wide.

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral 10 days later saw around a million people take to London’s streets, while 29 million watched the procession at home.

It is thought that the Royal Family will observe her death anniversary in private, having conversations and reflecting on a life well-lived.

No public event or ceremony will take place to mark the anniversary, but there is talk of a family memorial being erected.

It’s expected that each member of the Firm will pay their respects to Her Majesty in their own ways, with some members like the Prince and Princess of Wales likely to post touching tributes to social media.

To mark the day, Express.co.uk takes a look back at the Queen’s momentous reign, and how the print edition covered her life every step of the way. 

The night Princess Elizabeth became Queen without knowing it she was dressed in brown slacks and a bush jacket, and never went to bed or took her clothes off. She spent the whole night in the fabulous Treetops Hotel in a giant fig tree overlooking a waterhole in the Aberdare Forest game reserve.”

This is how the Daily Express opened its front page report a day after the death of King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, on Thursday, February 7, 1952. She — then 25 years old — and the Duke of Edinburgh — then 29 — were staying in Kenya when the news broke, standing in for George on a long-planned international tour that was meant to take in Australia and New Zealand.

The 56-year-old King, thousands of miles away at home in Sandringham, had been too ill to travel, having acquired a number of ailments, including lung cancer, arteriosclerosis and Buerger’s disease.

Just days before, on Tuesday, January 31, 1952, George had defied advice from those closest to him and travelled to London Airport with Elizabeth and Philip to see them off in what would be his final public appearance and last time he saw his daughter.

On being informed of the news, Elizabeth and Philip prepared to return home, but were briefly held up by a tropical thunderstorm over Entebbe, Uganda.

In the following pages of the Daily Express, tributes were paid to George, with Hector Bolitho, Author of ‘A Century of British Monarchy’, quoting Winston Churchill as having once said of the King and his wife, Queen Elizabeth I: “They have the rare talent of being able to make a mass of people realise in a flash that they are good.”

Whispers about the King’s health were widespread, and many wondered for how long he might be able to last as monarch.

Having led the country through World War 2 — an unprecedented global conflict which saw the introduction of modern artillery, airplanes, ships, tanks and submarines — the King was worn out and stressed, and was already known to be a nervous man having reluctantly taken the throne after the abdication of his older brother, Edward VIII.

This, coupled with his physical ailments, proved too much, and as Chapman Pincher — the Daily Express’ legendary defence and science correspondent — wrote in the Thursday edition: ‘The King knew the end was near”.

He continued: “The doctors knew that the King had only a short time to live after his serious lung operation less than five months ago [he had it removed in September 1951 after a malignant tumour was found]. It is almost certain that the King also knew.”

The veteran journalist, who passed away aged 100 in 2014, went on to note that the fact that doctors knew “nothing could be done to prolong his life,” went some way in explaining why “he was able to make the journey to London Airport last week to wave goodbye to Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.”

Mr Chapman went on to suggest that George had even prophesied his own death after it was suggested to him that Elizabeth perform the 1951 Christmas broadcast, but to which the King replied: “My daughter may have her opportunity next Christmas. I want to speak to my people myself.”

The day after Elizabeth and Philip arrived home was cold, wet and miserable, and on Thursday, February 8, 1952, she officially proclaimed herself Queen and Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith at a 20-minute meeting at St James’s Palace to an audience of 150 Lords of the Council, representatives from the Commonwealth, and officials from the City of London and other dignitaries.

Reading from her official proclamation, she said: “By the sudden death of my dear father I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty.

“My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, spread as they are all the world over.”

The Daily Express, in its Friday, February 8, 1952 edition, quoted the Queen as having told a Cabinet Minister: “This is a tragic homecoming.”

The front-page report, accompanied by a photograph of a solemn Queen and stiff-faced Philip, continued: “And here the actual home going begins. Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke leave London Airport for Clarence House.”

A separate report talked of how a “composed Queen, was back in Clarence House last night with the Royal Standard flying overhead.”

It added: “Her first visitor outside the family was Sir Alan Lascelles, the late King’s secretary. He told the Queen how her father was found dead. She then received the Duke of Norfolk, who is the Earl, Marshall, and Lord Chamberlain, and she approved that the funeral will take place next Friday at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.”

The Queen was proclaimed as monarch four times in London, with a neat diagram and map of the locations created by the Daily Express as shown below.

The first stop came at St James’s Palace at 11am by Garter King of Arms, Sir George Bellew.

The proclamation then travelled to Charing Cross, where Lancaster Herald Mr A G. B Russell uttered the words.

A short trip down the Strand took the procession to Chancery Lane, where the announcer was Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, Sir Gerald Wollaston.

The final call came at the Royal Exchange in the City of London, performed by Clarenceux King of Arms, Sir Arthur Cochrane.

As we reported on the day: “A Herald’s procession of five carriages will carry out the ceremony of the proclamations… four state trumpeters will be with the procession and a captain’s escort of two troops of Household Cavalry.

“Troops from the Guards, the Royal Fusiliers, the East Surreys, the Middlesex Regiment, the R.A.O.C, and the Honourable Artillery Company, will line the route. Guards’ bands will play the National Anthem at St James’s Palace, Charing Cross, Chancery Lane and the Royal Exchange. The Corps of Drums will not play.”

The Armed Forces will similarly be out in force this Platinum Jubilee, with around 1,500 soldiers and officers, 400 musicians and 250 horses from the Household Division of the British Army taking part in the Trooping of the Colour parade.

Another 200 sliders from the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards — the individuals who wear the iconic tall bearskin hats — will line The Mall.

On Saturday, February 9, 1952, the Daily Express ran a front-page story featuring a valiant, smiling Queen riding in her car with Philip and their chauffeurs on their way from London to Sandringham, snapped in another waving and smiling as crowds gathered round. 

Page three gave “glimpses of a traditional blaze of pageantry as Elizabeth II is proclaimed Queen”, showing a full-page spread of an image of the trumpeters of the Royal Horse Guards at Windsor Castle attending the Mayor of Windsor’s proclamation, the stolid bronze statue of Queen Victoria towering over their neat formations.

Apart from a few reports from within the country and around the world, the newspaper focused on the Queen and her family, including an excerpt from the Duke of Windsor’s autobiography charting his own feelings as he prepared to take the throne from his ailing father almost 20 years before — a clear parallel attempting to be made between his and Elizabeth’s then emotional state.

It would be over a year before the Queen was officially crowned in an extravagant and heavily publicised ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday, June 2, 1953.

In the Daily Express’ issue the following day, the headline “The Gleaming Lady” sat on top of an image of a beaming Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, both waving to a swarming crowd from the Buckingham Palace balcony.

It was just her sixth such appearance since her accession, and we reported: “At midnight, the Queen, still radiant in a glittering white dress, ermine cape, and diamond tiara, made her sixth appearance on the floodlit balcony of Buckingham Palace. For three minutes she and Prince Philip waved continuously to a wildly cheering crowd — as streamers flew, and flags and balloons and hats went up everywhere.

“But the appearance which had been awaited and which sent the expectant crowd of 150,000 wild with delight had come at 9.45. It was then that the floodlights were switched on at the Palace. An area of the balcony glowed — and into that area stepped the Queen.”

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