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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Jubilee tour diary: The North East
Nick Higham's Jubilee tour diary
Nick Higham is following the Queen's Jubilee tour
The BBC's arts and media correspondent Nick Higham is following the Queen on her Jubilee tour of the UK.

This is the second in a series of dispatches from around the country.


Tuesday 7 May

The second week of the Queen's Golden Jubilee tour of Britain, and it's just beginning to dawn on officials at Buckingham Palace - and perhaps on the Queen herself - what they have taken on.

For the next three months the schedule is relentless. And already perhaps the strain is beginning to tell.

In her speech in Gateshead she makes an uncharacteristic slip - the first such slip one seasoned royal watcher said he could ever recall.

She was supposed to say: "Last week I was in the South West of England; this week I am in the North East." In fact she says "North West".

She doesn't look tired or distracted: instead she looks delighted, as she has done throughout the tour so far, at the noisy welcome she is getting from enthusiastic crowds.

The Queen waves as she walks across the 'Winking Eye' bridge
In Gateshead, the Queen opened the 'Winking Eye' bridge
But inevitably speculation has begun about whether, at the age of 76, she is trying to do too much.

Certainly one of her staff, her private secretary Sir Robert Janvrin, looks exhausted. He is the man ultimately responsible for these royal visits, with their immensely complex logistics, and all the worries they entail about protocol and security.

But one thing the Palace doesn't have to worry about is the reception the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are getting.

Young people

Up on Tyneside they are less enthusiastic about the monarchy than down in the South West. Several of the young people I speak to in the crowd by the new Gateshead Millennium Bridge are distinctly lukewarm.

"Why are you here?" I ask. "It's a day off college," one replies.

"Are you fans of the monarchy?" I ask. "I'm indifferent," says one. "They're too expensive," says another.

The Queen looks out of the window on a metro train
The Queen rides the new Tyneside metro link
But nonetheless they cheer and wave their flags (some of the 250,000 thoughtfully supplied by the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Nigel Sherlock).

They strain for a better view when the Queen at last appears, after opening Sunderland's new Winter Gardens, travelling on a specially gold-painted Tyneside Metro train, and visiting a primary school in Jarrow.

At Gateshead she declares the bridge, known as the Winking Eye and the world's only tilting bridge, officially open and walks across to meet the Duke of Edinburgh on the Newcastle bank.

Royal walkabout

After a walkabout among the crowd the couple return, unveiling the obligatory plaque half-way, and go into lunch at the new Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art nearby.

Any brooding discontent at that slip-up in her speech is quickly swept away by something much more entertaining, the first streaker of the tour.

A streaker who ran in front of the Queen's car is arrested
The streaker is restrained by police and arrested
A young man strips off as the Queen is being driven to unveil a statue of Cardinal Basil Hume close by Newcastle Cathedral.

He shoots off at considerable speed ahead of the royal car, before being tackled by police officers, who pin him on top of a fallen crowd control barrier until the Queen is safely out of the way.

One eyewitness says the Queen and Duke must have caught what the tabloids call an eyeful, though whether they were able to read the slogan "Rude Britannia" scrawled on his back and bottom we don't know.


Wednesday 8 May

Today the Queen sees something of the scale of the North East's economic problems.

She visits three coastal villages, Seaham, Easington Colliery and Blackhall. All three once boasted flourishing coal mines, now closed.

Two young boys take a picture of the Queen
Some young admirers in Easington record their royal encounter
Easington Colliery today resembles a ghost town. By one measure it is the second poorest area in Britain after parts of inner London.

A sense of despair and desolation hangs over the place. Some 400 families have already moved out. Every month factories close or lay off hundreds of staff.

The Queen saw what was being done to revive the coastline, clearing away derelict structures, rejuvenating beaches and clearing up the pit spoil heaps which leach black slurry onto the beaches.

In due course there are ambitions to have the entire 18 kilometre coastline declared a national nature reserve.

The Queen meets George Ottowell and two other survivors of the 1951 Easington pit disaster, which killed 83 men.

Vivid memories

George was a member of the Mines Rescue Service, and still has vivid memories of helping to rescue the sole survivor of the explosion - an 18-year-old who died soon after.

Then it's on to lunch beneath gloomy portraits of Victorian churchmen in the Great Hall at Durham Castle, now part of the University of Durham, and just across from the city's astonishing Norman cathedral.

Shortly before the Queen arrives scores of dignitaries (including the naturalist David Bellamy and the university's chancellor, Sir Peter Ustinov) are waiting for her, ranged in a huge crescent round the castle courtyard.

Wellwishers in Beatles costumes greet the Queen
Giant Beatles great the royal party in Durham
As they wait large numbers of students suddenly troop out of the University Library close by.

Are they eager to see the Queen? No, they've been told the doors will be shut for her arrival; if they don't leave now they'll be cut off without any lunch.

But plenty stay to see her pass, along with a few hundred noisy schoolchildren bussed in for the morning.

And the city's narrow streets and Market Place are thronged for the royal walkabout that follows lunch.

Her Majesty may have forgotten where she is, but in the North East they're still pleased to see her.


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