The day Queen Elizabeth met the Beatles (and the Buckingham joint story)

It was in October 1965, when pop culture and the monarchy merged in an embrace. If the old British Lion could be proud of anything, it was his rock. Those were the days when island groups conquered the world with hits like Satisfaction either My Generation, those that gave a new air to the genre, very depressed after the misfortunes of Chuck Berry and the departure of Elvis to the army. But the absolute kings were The Beatles.

With two commercially successful films and several chart-topping singles, the Liverpool band were the musical stars of the day. In addition, they had managed to conquer the US market, which allowed entry to the rest. And not only for its good music; They were usually affable and friendly, which made them endearing to the public and the press. Probably, that was what was pondered in Buckingham Palace, when they decided to give them the medal of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE, for its acronym in English).

It was about a distinction founded in June 1917, in the midst of the First World War, by King George VI. This rewarded civil and military merits on behalf of the United Kingdom, and at that time, conquering the world with vocal harmonies, long hair and electric guitars was not a minor thing.

The Beatles had released the album Help! in August of that year, moment in which they returned to the United States for a second American tour, the one that had as a great milestone their massive presentation at Shea Stadium. Back home, after taking a vacation break, the Fab Four learned of the appointment by the royal house.

“One afternoon when we were at the Twickhenam film studios, Brian appeared. [Epstein, mánager del grupo] and he took us to the dressing room quite stealthily -recalls Paul McCartney in The Beatles Anthology-. He told us: ‘I have news, the Prime Minister [Harold Wilson] and the Queen have awarded them an MBE’. ‘What is that?’ we asked him. ‘A medal!'”.

The royal house had tried to sound out the Beatles in advance to find out if they would accept the MBE, but busy with their routine and with hundreds of letters from fans, the obituary from Buckinham Palace was left in the post. “Before you are granted an MBE, the palace writes to you asking if you will accept it, because you can’t publicly reject it. I put the letter with my fan mail, until Brian asked me if he had it, ”recalls John Lennon in the same volume.

After accepting the medals, The Beatles were informed that they would have to attend a ceremony at the Palace with Queen Elizabeth II herself., then 39 years old, an experience that was unforgettable for them. Thus, on the morning of October 26, dressed in impeccable black suits, the musicians arrived at the event in John Lennon’s Rolls Royce. Outside, a crowd of fans clamored for their idols.

Unaccustomed to such instances, the Beatles had to learn fast. “An official of the Queen, an officer of the Guard, took us aside and told us what to do: ‘Approach Her Majesty like this and never turn your back on her, and don’t speak to her unless she speaks to you.’ All those things. For four boys from Liverpool it was too much. It was quite fun. But she was sweet. I think she seemed a little sweet to us because we were little kids and she was a little older,” McCartney recalls.

Legend has it that out of nerves, the Fab Four smoked marijuana in the Palace. “To begin with, we wanted to laugh. But when it happens to you, when they are decorating you, you don’t laugh anymore. We, however, laughed like crazy because we had just smoked a joint in the Buckingham Palace toilets; we were so nervous -assured John Lennon in 1970-. We had nothing to say. The Queen was planted on a big thing. She said something like ‘ooh, ah, blah blah’ which we didn’t quite understand. She is much nicer than in the photos.”

But George Harrison clarified the facts years later. “In the investiture we do not smoke marijuana. What happened is that there was a very long queue with hundreds of people waiting and we were so nervous that we went to the bathroom -he points out in the Anthology-. And there we smoked a cigarette, we all smoked at that time”.

“Although we didn’t believe in the Royal Family, you can’t help but feel impressed when you’re in the palace, when you know you’re standing in front of the Queen,” recalled John Lennon. It was like in a dream. It was beautiful. People were playing music, I was looking at the ceiling, the ceiling wasn’t bad. It was historic. It was like being in a museum.”

When it was their turn, the Beatles approached the Queen. “The man yelled: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. The word Starr was the signal for us to walk forward, left foot forward. It was like a show,” McCartney recalls.

The sovereign looked at them curiously and the first one who spoke to her was the drummer, Ringo Starr. “The Queen told me ‘you started the group, didn’t you?’ and I replied ‘no, I was the last to join’. And then he asked ‘how long have you been together?’ and without hesitation, Paul and I said ‘we’ve been together forty years and it doesn’t seem like much’. She gave us a quizzical look as if she was going to laugh or was thinking ‘off their heads’”.

He also spoke to John Lennon. “She said to me, ‘Have you been working hard lately?’ And I couldn’t think about what we’d been doing, so I was like, ‘No, we’ve been on vacation,’ when actually we’d been recording.”

Some time later, the Beatles wore the medals in the photo session of the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandand even the sovereign could be the inspiration for Her Majestythe theme that was included at the end of the album abbey road. On his side, Lennon returned the MBE in protest in 1969.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.