Flags out as Malta welcomes Queen Elizabeth ‘home’
British and Maltese flags lined the main street of the capital Valletta ahead of her three-day visit, which will see the queen and her husband Prince Philip attend the opening ceremony of the 24th Commonwealth summit and revisit spots from when they were newlyweds.
The monarch, now 89, lived in Malta between 1949 and 1951 when her husband was stationed on the island as a naval officer, and wiled away her days dancing, shopping and relaxing, enjoying the freedom she would soon lose as queen.
“My grandparents used to see her, holding hands with the prince, rushing to meet him when he got off work,” said Mario Vella, 52, a waiter at the Regina Cafe on the corner of the main Republic Street — formerly Kingsway until the island dropped the monarchy in 1974.
The pair have returned several times over the years, most recently in 2007 to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary.
They will be accompanied by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, and will be at home among the red British phone boxes and postboxes.
– ‘No responsibilities, carefree life’ –
The queen and Prince Philip are due to arrive in Malta at 3:25 pm (1425 GMT), where they will be met by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat before heading to a ceremony at the majestic San Anton Palace in the middle of the island.
They will travel in cars from the 1950s — Austin Princesses with leather seats and walnut wood interiors — in a throwback to the days when the couple used to meander around the tiny streets of the Maltese capital.
“She had no ‘responsibilities’, she got to know the island, driving in the countryside,” said optician Francis Camilleri, 67, who has seen the monarch during some of her return visits.
A lavish party for the royals hosted by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca kicks off in the early evening, with special guests from the queen’s past.
Among them will be Elizabeth Pule, known as “Jessie’s daughter”, because her mother Jessie worked for then-princess Elizabeth in Malta.
Pule turns out for every royal visit holding a placard proclaiming: “I am Jessie’s daughter”.
Clarinettist Freddie Mizzi will also be present — he used to play in the band at the Phoenicia Hotel where Elizabeth and Prince Philip regularly danced.
The band is reported to have struck up “People Will Say We’re in Love” from the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!” whenever the royal couple entered.
– Royal salute –
On Friday, Queen Elizabeth is expected to make a speech at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth summit before its 53 heads of government or their representatives.
It may be the last time she does so: her decision to avoid long-haul travel for Commonwealth summits may mean it is the last time she attends in person.
Saturday the monarch will take a luzzu — a traditional, brightly-painted wooden Maltese fishing boat — across Valletta harbour to Britain’s HMS Bulwark assault ship as a 21-gun royal salute rings out.
The guns will fire from the seafront Barrakka gardens, where the princess, then in her early 20s, used to come and wave in the navy fleet.
The horse-mad monarch will spend her last hours before leaving Malta at the racecourse, where she reportedly used to come not only to ride but also dance the night away.