‘Thunderstruck’ Queen carried the weight – behind the scenes of historic event laid bare

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Ken Clarke’s son, whose father had a near unique glimpse of the Queen as she travelled to Nairobi as a young princess, only to come home early as the new Queen, has revealed the change in her countenance his dad witnessed – from the “happiest woman in the world” to “thunderstruck”. Ken Clarke, who died aged 88 in 2003, was one of only four stewards on the 25-year-old’s now famous flight to and from Kenya in February 1952, and spoke of how impressed he was with the young woman’s handling of her grief and new responsibility.

He told his family how the Queen enjoyed her usual gin and tonic on the way over, but stayed alcohol-free on the way back after her father King George VI died suddenly – making her the new monarch.

Mr Clarke’s son, also called Ken, 83, has spoken for the first time about his father’s experience on that famous flight.

Ken Jnr said: “My father recalls the Queen flying out as the happiest woman in the world – and then just looking thunderstruck on the way back.

“He said she seemed under an enormous amount of pressure coming home – and all the crew treated her with respect and dignity, with the pilot even shaking her hand.

“My father said Queen enjoyed the occasional G&T during her travels and on that flight out to Kenya she had at least one. Although she certainly didn’t drink on the flight back.

“He revered her from that day. I think a lot of it was to do with how discreetly she had to handle her grief after her father died, I think he was very impressed with that.”

Princess Elizabeth flew aboard the BOAC Argonaut ‘Atlanta’ with the Duke of Edinburgh at the start of the Royal Tour of Kenya on February 1, 1952.

However, just six days later the now-Queen was on a flight home. Her father had died on February 6, prompting her immediate accession to the throne.

Mr Clarke’s duties on board included serving her tea, preparing her food, and making sure her favourite drink, a gin and tonic, was ready for her.

Ken Jnr said: “The stewards all had the same duties – but I think my father was probably more knowledgeable out of the four of them, as he had served as a steward on cruise ships before the war.

He added that his father remained in reverence of the Queen since that day.

He said: ”He was always very proud to say that he had travelled out there with a princess, and travelled back with a Queen.

“And I think she’s done remarkably well. She has been very resilient, especially with everything she has been through with her family.

“He said she was always very nice and polite to her.

“She got to know my father quite well over the years. For the next 25 years after that, he was on every royal flight she took, and she got to know him by name.

“Apparently Philip could be a bit of a pain in the arse – and there was one or two occasions where the Queen had a sharp word with him and said, ‘Don’t speak to Mr Clarke like that.’

“My mother and father were always invited to the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace – and she even gave him a nice leather wallet when he retired in 1977.”

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The Queen’s famous resilience continues even today.

Having just tested positive for coronavirus, the 95-year-old monarch has continued her royal duties and signed off a touching congratulatory message to Team GB Men’s and Women’s Curling teams.

She has also insisted that her weekly virtual meeting with Boris Johnson go ahead, despite her illness.

Royal commentator Camilla Tominey praised the Queen’s “remarkable resilience” after her husband Prince Philip, who was present during the Kenya trip when she became monarch at 25, died last year.

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