On Friday morning members of the UEA Media Collective gathered outside the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, armed with cameras and microphones, to await the arrival of the UK’s most prestigious visitor. We had been told to arrive early in order to register for the event and receive our briefing. This consisted of ‘watch out for those other guys, they’re professionals and they have sharp elbows.’ Ready to fight for the perfect photo of Her Majesty we made our way to the press pen.
The Queen was not the first high profile guest to attend the Sainsbury Centre exhibition ‘Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific’: on display are the largest number of Fijian artefacts ever seen in the UK. The event was opened in October by the President of Fiji, Joiji Konousi Konrote, and guests at the launch included Sir David Attenborough and Lord Sainsbury.
90 minutes later the Media Collective team were still waiting in the press pen, feet now sufficiently numb, trying to act like professional journalists. The crowd outside the Sainsbury centre had begun to fill out, with latecomers flocking to the teaching wall in the hopes of gathering a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth. One daring student attempted to climb a tree in order to get a better view.
Flags at the ready, every time a car drove past the crowd held its collective breath. The Queen’s smallest admirers, excited pupils from West Earlham Infant and Nursery School and Bluebell Primary, arrived shortly after 11, lining the road in paper crowns, sure to impress the royal visitor.
Fijian warriors, in skirts made from dried bark strands stood without shoes, waiting to symbolically guard the Queen when she arrived. One of the 6’7” warriors was 19-year-old Joe Cokanasiga, a winger with the rugby union club London Irish. He later said that it was an ‘honour’ to guard the Queen on her visit.
The growing sound of the traditional Fijian drumming heralded the impending arrival of her Majesty. The sounds of cheering could be heard further up campus as a slow procession of Range Rovers made their way down the road, Union Jacks waving them along.
Despite the grey clouds and the grey concrete, Queen Elizabeth dazzled campus in fuchsia pink. Her short stature was compensated for by the most fabulous hat in the east of England. She stepped down from her car on to the red carpet be greeted by the two warriors, pausing only slightly at the sight — I suppose her years of engagements have left little to be surprised at. She walked swiftly past, collecting a small posy of flowers from a local schoolgirl.
Despite suffering from bad health over Christmas, the Queen appeared to be in great spirits despite the cold. This was supposed to be the day that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh carried out their first joint engagement of the year: however, the Duke of Edinburgh’s absence caused many to question whether he had actually been informed of this. Royal aides admitted later that a diary mix up was the reason for the Duke’s absence.
Inside the Centre she met with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Richardson and the Fiji High Commissioner to the UK, H.E Mr Jitoko Tikolevu. Her majesty also watched footage of herself during her first visit to Fiji in 1953. Before departing from the back of the Sainsbury centre — Avengers style — she met with representatives from the university community, as well as Fijian students studying at UEA.
Campus had been buzzing for the past week about the visit. One international student from Poland told Concrete, “Personally, I came because I think it’s interesting. She’s the link to the past that in some countries is long forgotten, but here it still exists.”