Meeting Queen Elizabeth at the International School of Aberdeen are, left to right foreground, Dr. Daniel Hovde, ISA director; Kent Walter; Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth; Javier Chiaraluce, ISA drama instructor; and Adam Coutts, ISA drama instructor. (Photo contributed)
ABERDEEN, Scotland – Chances are pretty good that most Americans will never have the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth. Kent Walter certainly never expected to have that chance. But Walter beat the odds recently when he was able to meet and shake hands with Queen Elizabeth at the International School of Aberdeen in Scotland where he teaches music.
A graduate of Amboy High School, the Sublette native studied music education at Illinois State University and then taught at international schools in Ethiopia, Kenya and Venezuela before landing at his current post in Scotland. Not long after arriving there in 2001, Walter caught his first glimpse of Queen Elizabeth - but only from a distance.
“Part of the welcome package for new teachers was to attend the Highland Games at Braemar,” Walter wrote in a recent e-mail. “The Highland Games are track and field events to celebrate the Scottish and Celtic cultures.”
Walter explained that the Braemar Games mark the end the season. Since Braemar is the town closest to Queen Elizabeth’s Balmoral Castle, where she spends the summer, the queen and other members of the royal family always attend the Braemar Games. On that day in 2001, Walter also saw Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Prince William. “My closest distance from the royal family was probably the distance from sideline to sideline on a football field,” he said. “I was satisfied.”
Five years later, Walter was surprised to come within 100 feet of Queen Elizabeth when visiting Balmoral Castle one summer day. “Some friends and I took a road trip to Balmoral Castle,” he recalled. “We noticed a lot of activity on the grounds and asked what was happening only to discover that Her Majesty was taking residence that day for her summer holiday.”
Walter said they went to the front gate of the castle to see the queen inspect the troops before entering the grounds. “This inspection is a tradition dating back to Queen Victoria over 100 years ago,” Walter noted.
Walter’s next encounter with the queen was equally unexpected but this time, face to face. Walter said in 2012, the director of the International School of Aberdeen (ISA), Dr. Daniel Hovde, had the idea of writing to Buckingham Palace for approval to dedicate the school’s theatre in Queen Elizabeth’s name. “With Queen Elizabeth just celebrating her diamond jubilee last year, Dan thought it might be interesting to see if we could make this dedication,” Walter explained. “I laughed and told him to ‘Go for it!’ Then I forgot about it.”
This past August, Walter learned that the request had been approved and that they were sending “a Royal” to the school to dedicate it. “I can only imagine my face when Dan said the queen herself was making the dedication,” Walter wrote. “Dan then followed up with, ‘By the way, I will introduce you to her majesty then you will introduce the rest of your staff.’”
In addition, Walter was told to prepare a 10-minute student performance for the queen, as requested by the palace. “My department put together a presentation encompassing all of the arts – drama, art, instrumental and vocal music – along with theatre lighting/design,” Walter said. “In total, 103 children ages K-12 had the opportunity of presenting to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.”
There was one important stipulation. The school was under strict orders that no one except “key personnel” know of the queen’s visit. Hovde decided “key personnel” meant the entire ISA staff, even though he knew it would be difficult for over 100 people to keep the secret. “He decided to tell the staff anyway with the hope that it wouldn’t get out,” Walter wrote. “Oddly enough, it didn’t! It was the best-kept secret around!”
As for the students, they knew they were performing for an international event and that it was an honor to be selected. “We had to receive parent permission for a ‘surprise’ presentation,” Walter explained. “The students and parents were very cooperative, curious and excited. Rumors were flying all over the place.”
Once students were finally told they would perform for the queen, Walter said they were very excited and “more than eager” to do so. As a public figure, he said there is no one comparable to Queen Elizabeth. “Whether you are a royalist or not, meeting this icon of a woman who has endured several wars (as a child and adult), has met 12 U.S. presidents since Dwight Eisenhower (with the exception of Lyndon Johnson) and has reigned over her kingdom and commonwealth spanning the entire globe for the longest period ever, you must respect her post and the service she does for her people,” Walter pointed out. “We were not performing for a political stance or a belief or a government. We were performing for an icon.”
Understandably, there were some last-minute jitters prior to taking the stage. “My colleagues and I reminded everyone that Her Majesty was just like any other audience member and to make the presentation as strong as we could. However, we were still extremely nervous,” Walter admitted.
During Queen Elizabeth’s visit inside the school, all forms of recording devices and cameras were prohibited. This was not done for security purposes, however. Walter explained that the palace brought their own official photographer who was hired by the school to take photos of the visit. ISA was also granted permission to hire another photographer for the day. “These photographers had sole opportunity to record footage of the day’s event,” Walter said. “They do not want the public in the background of their photos to be faceless with a camera in front of their face. They want a public with eyes and smiles as her majesty wanders the halls of the building.
“How many performances have you seen of your children through a lens?” he continued. “How often do we watch anything anymore with our eyes and our heart? Perhaps that is what made the day so special. We all had to live ‘in the moment.’”
At the end of the performance, Walter and his colleagues were introduced to the queen and shook her hand. He explained that proper etiquette was required. “When meeting Her Majesty, women must curtsy and men must bow from the waist,” he said. “One must never shake hands unless she makes the first move to do so. It is considered an honor if she extends her hand to shake yours.
Walter said although he remembered nothing of his conversation with the queen that day, he recalled her being very gracious. “She was nothing but smiles while meeting our students and - unlike popular belief - was smiling the entire time she was visiting our school,” he said. “She asked many questions of the school, the community, the educational system and the children.
“At one point I simply stood back and watched the crowd, Queen Elizabeth and her entourage. I had to pinch myself and just say, ‘Wow! This is awesome!’”