Henry McKean: The Queen is loved in Ireland, even if we won't admit it

Despite what you might think, Henry McKean is not a Royalist, but he still has a soft spot for the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth, 90, birthday

Terry Hutt, a royal fan shows a card he has made, in Windsor, England. Image: Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP/Press Association Images

So the Queen has turned 90, but do the Irish care? Of course we do, even if we are secret about it. I think Gerry Adams even has a soft spot for Her Majesty, in fact, I think he might even secretly love her.

Some people think I'm a Royalist but I'm not; I did meet Prince Charles and Diana in 1988 in Glasgow Cathedral, however. I was a school boy with a school mate waiting in the cathedral for hours for Charlie to show up. The Prince and Princess of Wales walked in and stopped to say hello.

Charles said 'Hello boys', and we responded 'Hello Your Highness'. Charles said 'Don't call me Your Highness, call me Charles'. At the time, I thought that was refreshing. Diana just stood there looking pretty and batted her eyelashes. I always remember her being very attractive with a striking presence, akin to that I experienced when I was in the same room as Bill Clinton.

When Diana died in that 1997 Paris car crash being chased by paparazzi, I was on a plane at the time. The captain announced it on board, and I admit I did get caught up in the hysteria of grief. But does this make me a Royalist? No. Are we right to put a family on a pedestal just because of birth? No, but it's good for tradition and tourism, I'm glad they didn't execute them like the French did.

My grandfather, Robert McKean, and my dad, Hamish, met the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1966 when he was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his service to British Airways and aviation. We used to wear the medal as kids at parties with huge pride.

My Dad said the Queen was relaxed, charming, chatty and interested in what careers me and my sister Jane wanted to pursue. "Small in structure, we were told not to shake her hand. Jane had to curtsy and I had to bow.

"We had to go through a rehearsal with a Royal footman prior to the investiture in a large room in Buckingham Palace. The Queen and Prince Philip seemed to be the only relaxed people in there."  

Charles came to Ireland in 2002 and again in 2015 with Camilla, and while both times I got close to him, we didn't actually speak. I tried to speak to Camilla in Galway, but a tall gard pushed me back. With the Royals you can't approach them, they choose or not to approach you. The Queen came to Ireland in 2011, the first visit of a British Monarch in the history of the State. I saw her in Trinity College, she just got out of the Range Rover with Prince Philip to take a look at the Book of Kells.

Image: Anwar Hussein / EMPICS Entertainment

I couldn't get over how small she was; just a little granny with a big handbag, she just happened to be the Queen. That day Ireland grew up, we became a nation and forgot about our past filled with hatred and bitterness towards Britain.

In 2011 The Royal Wedding took place between Kate Middleton and Prince William in London. Covering it for Newstalk in London, it really reminded me of something from the film Princess Diaries with Anne Hathaway, like a fairytale of glam and happiness. Showing the family's international appeal, I met a Canadian Royalist who was camping outside Westminster Abbey who said "I love all the Royal family, and my favourite is Elton John."  

While that was a little wide of the mark, the effect was still felt back in Ireland, as people in offices and homes across the nation were glued to their TVs, and everyone had a comment on Pippa Middleton's bottom. London was turned into a Mardi Gras, with street parties popping up all over the place. A real celebration, similar enough to the 1916 centenary here in Ireland.

Which reminds me, the Queen is only a decade short of turning 100-years-old. She has survived the Blitz, she met Winston Churchill on a regular basis in World War II, survived assassination attempts, 12 British Prime Ministers and 15 US Presidents including Nixon, JFK and Reagan. Queen Elizabeth II became Queen in 1952, a year before the death of Stalin. She has been there, and bought the t-shirt.

Image: Anwar Hussein / EMPICS Entertainment

When she passes away, the outpouring of grief will be felt on this side of Irish Sea too. We secretly love her, even if we don't know it, and will be watching her celebrated life turning 90 this week with a curtain-twitching pride, including Gerry Adams. She isn't just England's Queen, she is the world's Queen, even when it comes to the old friend and enemy, Ireland.

She is a world ambassador, something Mary Robinson and Michael D Higgins could only dream of. So on her birthday, raise a pint of Guinness to Queen Elizabeth II, just like she did to us in the Store House back in 2011.