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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
A visit from the Queen
The Queen at the London Stock Exchange
The Queen pressed the start button on the futuristic orb sculpture
Breakfast's regular business presenter Declan Curry is rarely at a loss for words. But he was almost struck dumb, as a royal visitor made an unexpected bee-line for his cosy corner of the Stock Exchange. Here, he tells us how the Breakfast website saved his bacon

As you'll know from our broadcasts from our new business studio, the Stock Exchange moved to its new home a few weeks ago.

Today it got the key to the door.

The Queen arrived here just before lunchtime to open the new building officially, and to start the new moving sculpture that will mark the beginning and end of share trading each day.

All morning the building has been teeming with people. Cleaners have been dusting and sweeping the floors clean. Police officers sweep every floor too, though they're not looking for dirt.

The Conference girls pop in to compare their curtsies. Giggling and falling down are identified as the main risks. "How do you shake hands with her?" asks one. I don't know, but we practise a few different ones. We decide on a light graze.

Mouth running dry, I burble something about "BBC news computer ... connected to our studios in Shepherds' Bush." I show her the Breakfast website. I forget the rest. The hat nods.

The snuffer dog gallops into media centre, has a good old nose around the coffee machine, and uncovers a banana a technician has stored away for a secret snack. Not so secret any more. Its colleague is in the square outside, having a good old woof at the pigeons.

And at the people. The crash barriers went up outside the building's front door several hours earlier, cordoning off a corner of Paternoster Square. A little while later the royal watchers started arriving - the hardy group of people who turn up wherever the Queen goes.

Then the tourists visiting nearby St Paul's Cathedral came over to see what the fuss was about. They soon had some bonus photos for their London album.

Carbuncles and glass stumps

Her Majesty is no stranger to the Exchange. She opened its former headquarters, the Stock Exchange Tower, right beside the Bank of England in 1972.

And she may have heard something about its new headquarters from her son. Prince Charles has long been passionate about the redevelopment of the area around St. Paul's. His famous "monstrous carbuncle" speech about modern architecture in 1984 said it would be a "tragedy if St Paul's (was) dwarfed by another giant glass stump".

Well, the new building is neither glass nor a stump, and its height and depth were restricted so it would not overshadow the Cathedral. The gossip is Prince Charles had quite a say in - as well as a lot to say about - the finished product.

A little after half eleven, in rolled the regal Rolls, Royal Standard fluttering in front. The crowd surged. The Queen emerged.

Just as she walked into the building, some of the crowd surged in another direction.

Were people fainting? Nothing so dramatic. The man from the next-door Starbucks - spotting a captive audience - had appeared with a large tray of free drinks. The tourists snapped them up.

The Royal Watchers snapped their photos - as did some local office boys, using their mobile phones to capture those instant memories. There's technological progress for you.

The Perspex orb

Another piece of technology was awaiting the Royal thumb. The Queen was due to start "The Source", seven hundred and twenty nine Perspex balls (sorry, orbs) in a box that zoom up and down 7-storey-high cables, and light up to spell out the value of the FTSE and various other messages.

The Queen at the London Stock Exchange
The Queen pressed the start button on the futuristic orb sculpture
Almost every morning for the last month, engineers and artists have been at the Stock Exchange when I arrive at 4am, checking the lights, spinning the spheres and shouting with joy or despair, depending on what the last ball had just done.

Today was its big test. Would the orbs work? Or would they use a different word with a similar meaning to describe their performance?

By this point, we've lost our view from the window overlooking the square. We creep out of the media centre, and peek gingerly round the corner. Good. They're not on the way up yet.

A quick sprint down the corridor, and we reach the reception in time to see the Majestic palm push the start button for the sculpture.

Nobody breathes. A fraction of a second later - but golly does it feel a lot longer - the first ball climbs up the wire, twinkling as the light catches it. You can feel the relief.

The hat's progress

Somebody squeaks. The Royal party is making its way towards us. And the Royal plan says we should be somewhere else. Our technician Natasha - who keeps us broadcasters in line of a morning - shoos us back to our positions back inside the studio waiting room.

And we wait. Between the reception and the media centre front door, you pass the studio we use on Breakfast each morning - and a corridor-long floor-to-ceiling window which lets you see everything inside there and the control room.

This has caught Her Majesty's attention. Sally, the studios' chief manager, explains gamely, being broadcast all the while on international television.

We're inside, watching what's happening in the corridor outside, thanks to a TV signal that travelled thousands of miles into the sky, and two feet across the carpet.

The hubbub gets closer. The TV is snapped off. Then - the hat appears. The Queen is underneath it, of course, but no one else is wearing one so even though it's a small dainty thing it's suddenly very prominent.

A Royal detour

The hat moves down the receiving line. I'm not in it; Her Majesty is here to meet the staff. I'm just there in the corner, to show her the place is used by working journalists. It's vaguely like being in a school play.

She reaches the end of the line. Someone shows her the latest FTSE. "Down again I'm afraid, ma'am," she's told. They should be afraid. If the papers are right, the Queen has developed quite a taste for technology stocks. Good job she didn't ask about the NASDAQ, which just hours before had hit its lowest point so far this year.

Then instead of turning into the studios as I expected, she turns back round to me. It's wasn't quite "so what do you do?" The question was more like, "and what does that do?"

Whatever it was, it wasn't in the plan. This was supposed to be a non-speaking part. Mouth running dry, I burble something about "BBC news computer ... connected to our studios in Shepherds' Bush." I show her the Breakfast website. I forget the rest. The hat nods.


There are smiles - mine was relief; I wouldn't want to guess what Her Majesty's was.

And then she's off to the next stage - unveiling the winning entry in a children's art competition run by the Exchange and its affiliated charity, the Trident Trust. The tour started with moving sculpture. It ends with a painting. And to the relief of the organisers, a work of art in between.

  • Declan Curry presents Breakfast's business news, live from the London Stock Exchange every morning, from 0600

  • BBC Breakfast


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