‘Her warmth melted the nerves’: contractors recall meeting the Queen

Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II made what proved to be her final visit to a major UK construction site – opening London’s Elizabeth line, which had been named in her honour.

Following the completion of work on the much anticipated Crossrail project, which opened four years late, Her Majesty met individuals involved in the scheme at Paddington station, where she unveiled a commemorative plaque.

Despite mobility issues which reduced her public engagements in the final years of her life, the Queen was walked round the station by Transport for London staff, who also showed her how to top up an Oyster card.

It was just one of hundreds, possibly even thousands, of trips to projects made by Her Majesty during her 70-year reign, which ended last week. But those visits, however fleeting, can often live long in the memory of those in attendance.

Construction News spoke to contractors who shared interactions with Her Majesty.

Sir Robert McAlpine was one of countless contractors that had landmark projects opened by Queen Elizabeth, including the Millennium Dome, or the O2 Arena, in 2000 and the Olympic Stadium in 2012, both London venues. Her Majesty also attended when the group cut the ribbon on the Forum campus building at Exeter University, again in 2012.

A spokesperson for the group said staff members who met the Queen were “struck by her grace and charmed by her warmth, humour and compassion”. As a tribute, the group is to fly its flags at half-mast during the 10 days of national mourning.

Russell Day, education sector head at Sir Robert McAlpine, recalled his experience of meeting the Queen: “The opening of the Forum building coincided with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. I felt really privileged to have been invited by the university to be in the line-up to greet [her].

“It was a glorious sunny day and thousands of people had turned out to see Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh.

“Just minutes after the Queen had walked through the Forum, students started pouring into the building and using it. This took place 10 years ago, but I can still recall the time the Queen gave to each of us and the extraordinary impact and sense of inspiration her presence created.”

Three years after Her Majesty’s coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth attended the opening of Calder Hall power station. Although the Cumbria plant was decommissioned in 2003, Bouygues UK chief executive Rob Bradley recalls the personal significance of that visit and how it influenced him.

He said: “I remember in 1981, on the first day of my first job as a graduate civil engineer at Sellafield, being proudly shown a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 opening Calder Hall, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station.

“Sixty-six years later, I’m proud to be involved with Bouygues and our partners Laing O’Rourke building the latest nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C, in Somerset.”

He added: “Throughout the past 40 years of my career, the Queen has visibly supported many of the significant building and infrastructure projects around the UK and Commonwealth bringing huge pride and sense of purpose to all those involved in our industry.

“We will all miss her for her support in promoting the value our industry brings to our country.”

Laing O’Rourke chair Sir John Parker GBE was knighted for services to defence and shipbuilding in 2001. Sir John paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth in a joint statement with group chief executive Ray O’Rourke, recalling the personability of the UK’s longest reigning monarch.

“We are saddened by the death of Her Majesty … and join the millions of people around the world in mourning her loss.

“In Queen Elizabeth II, we saw the consummate leader who offered stability and certainty to our nation and the Commonwealth.

“We remember with fondness the times Her Majesty visited our projects, usually to mark an official opening. Her warmth and ability to put people at ease would soon melt the nerves of the assembled line up of those of us who had been picked out to greet her.

“Her smile would light up the room and those fortunate enough to meet Queen Elizabeth will always remember their time with her.”

Have you worked on any royal buildings? CN would like to speak to you for a special report. Please email [email protected]

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