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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Just the ticket, Ma'am

Resuming her Golden Jubilee tour, the Queen has visited a London bus depot to jump aboard a modern double-decker for the first time.
Given that the Queen has just taken delivery of a custom-built Bentley limo - rumoured to have cost 5m - and that she has spent much of the Jubilee weekend riding around in King George III's 27m gold state coach, who would have thought she'd go anywhere near a double-decker bus.

"It's a bus fit for a queen, definitely," says driver Tony Farrell from the front seat of the number 52, where he waits to meet the royal party.

The state coach
The Queen is used to more luxury
Certainly there can be few buses in London as well turned out as his. From the passenger hand rails to the wheel nuts, the double-decker sparkles. A square of cardboard has even been spread on the floor to ward off any dirty footprints which might mar the royal inspection.

And it doesn't stop there. Willesden Bus Depot has been spruced up as much as any building that dispatches hundreds of diesel-powered vehicles each day could ever be.

Fuel fumes hang heavy in the air and a good hosing with water hasn't cleared all the oil from the ground, but Cheryl Flemming says her husband Norman, the depot's manager, is proud of his efforts.

Clean for the Queen

"It's not normally this tidy, it's a working environment," she says pointing to some neatly stacked oil drums and a skip covered with a new tarpaulin, "but Norman hopes he'll be able to keep it like this for a while. He'll try his best."

Mrs Flemming says her husband has more pressing worries than the future tidiness of his depot. "He's very nervous. He keeps asking me what he should say to the Queen. He'll be alright, he's got the gift of the gab."

The Queen on a bus with Eugene Collymore
A bus fit for a queen
Mr Flemming is not so sure. "I still don't know what I'm going to say. Hopefully she'll put me at my ease."

Hopefully, since Mr Flemming's time for thinking is up. The new Bentley swings into the garage, the gloomy interior (the spring clean didn't extend to the depot's sooty skylights) is suddenly lit up by camera flashes.

The Queen hops aboard the 52 - which normal plies its trade between Knightsbridge and Willesden - for a guided tour by Tony Farrell and Eugene Collymore, both 30-year veterans behind the wheel.

One more up top?

Though the Queen displays a great knowledge of the bus's features designed to help disabled and elderly passengers, it soon becomes clear this mode of transport is quite a novelty to her.

Passing the double-decker's stairs, the Queen peers upwards with a look of wonderment usually only seen on the faces of child passengers.

The Queen getting off a bus
Mind the step
"She took everything in that I was saying and seemed very interested," says Mr Farrall, "I thought I was going to be nervous, but I wasn't at all."

Mr Collymore - who was behind the wheel of a bus during both the Silver and Golden Jubilees - says he was delighted to meet the Queen.

"I've never had anyone famous on my bus before, only that fella off Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman."

So did the Queen enjoy her first time on the sort of bus many of her subjects ride on every day?

"I think so," says Mr Farrell, "but she was taken aback when I told her how much they cost. She was surprised when I said 150,000."

Still a bargain compared to the Queen's normal rides though.


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06 Jun 02 | England
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