This was by far the most fun and most tiring week I’ve had at the bureau.
Before I get to the Queen, I want to mention another great story we got to do on Tuesday. I had made a pitch to cover the unveiling of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph in Trafalgar Square. The original arch in the ancient UNESCO world heritage site city of Palmyra was destroyed by ISIS during their 10-month siege of the city which ended in March.
I wasn’t the only one with the idea.
When we showed up Tuesday morning, the square quickly filled with media. Having at least two people on site is great because (for example) as the organizers moved the media barricades forward one person could run up and claim a good spot while the other stayed with the gear and brought it up after.
The day went well. I talked to lots of Syrians (from Aleppo, Latikia, Damascus and Palmyra) who were now living in London. The guy from Palmyra was who I wanted to talk to most – I found him on Facebook a few days before the unveiling and asked whether he was going. He wrote passionately about the arches:
“I’m happy to see Triumph arch again in London after six years of leaving my home city, Palmyra. I feel I regain part of my body again. The Triumph arch represents the identity of Palmyrenes because we have to pass it when we go to our farms at sunrise and then we have to take some rest under it before going back to our homes at sunset. Thanks for London and all world to return our identity to us.”
I really wanted to interview this guy in person. He seemed perfect! A local who could connect with why this was important. The only problem? He said he wasn’t going to be at the square the day the arches were unveiled. The day I’d need to talk to him in person to get the news story.
Then I had a stroke of amazing luck. Somehow, on the day of the unveiling, in a sea of civilians and media people, I heard someone call my name. It was the Palmyra guy! He recognized me from behind the barricades and called me over. He had cancelled everything last minute and decided to drive in to London from Uxbridge where he’s doing his PhD to see the unveiling. So I got to talk to him, and he was lovely.
The Queen’s 90th Birthday
Thursday, April 21st was the first of the Queen’s many birthdays this year. April 21 is her actual birthday, while traditionally monarch birthday celebrations are held in June. This June birthday tradition was started by King Edward VII, because he worried his November birthday might not have good weather.
Last week on said birthday the Queen turned 90 years old. Liz is breaking all traditions this past year. In fall 2015 she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, having reigned 63 years. Now she’s the first monarch to make it into their 90s. Good for her. Go Liz!
She’s also the source of much near-religious fervour throughout the country. They say that liking something is a consequence of its familiarity. If that’s true, maybe Liz’s long reign and life explains just how much people love the Queen. They’ve had a long time to get to know her. I’ve heard it over and over again that hers is the most documented life, ever.
Our CBC team covered three days in Windsor: The Queen’s birthday eve, the day of her birthday, and the day after her birthday where she had President Obama over for lunch.
I was there for birthday eve and her Majesty’s birthday.
One thing I learned from the experience was just how important logistics are. Lots of reporters, lots of gear, lots of people on the ground. I drove up with our team on day one, then took the train back, up and back again. It’s a nice train ride, about 40 minutes from Paddington station and £14 for a return ticket.
Here’s a glimpse of our behind-the-scenes media tent setup.
My next two days were a fever dream framed by union jacks and filled with people dressed in all variations of Brittanica costumes singing ‘Happy Birthday Your Majesty.’
For my part, I helped haul gear, did whatever the correspondents needed me to do, found and arranged two interviews with Royal Watchers (people’s whose jobs it is to basically observe the monarchy and comment on their doings), ran around doing streeters with people in crazy costumes/cute children/a dog named Camilla, sent my photos with captions back to the CBC desk in Toronto, and freehand held an iPhone for a live hit while holding the iPhone in one hand, reflector in the other, and bracing myself between a rail and a tripod on a tiny media platform with about 20 people. We shall never speak of it again.
In other news: we learned Windsor is a bit of a signal dead spot for our Dejero and MiFi. We were fine once we got to our media spot at Windsor Castle though because we had a satellite dish.
The day of the Queen’s birthday she walked down from the castle and around the block into the town’s Guildhall where she was presented with a cake. On the way back she drove right past us in her roofless Rolls Royce and it was amazing because she was so close.
After the birthday excitement was over, we needed to do some more logistical coordination. Half of our people and gear had to stay in Windsor to cover Obama’s visit the next day, and half our people and gear had to come home to London. This resulted in Pascal and I hauling an incredible amount of gear on the train, like little CBC sherpas.
All in all, a great week. My body was sore from hauling gear, but giddy that I got to shoot her Majesty. I mean, seriously, I got pretty lucky that my internship just happened to coincide with all this cool stuff. I’ve gotten to go out with the crew and do quite a bit of shooting and fieldwork. There’s also been a lot of opportunity to learn from the correspondents, cameramen and producers. All in all, a really great gig.
There are still two weeks left to go. I feel like this is probably the natural climax of my time here, but who knows? Here’s looking forward to two more great weeks with the CBC in London.