Former AG John Jeremie – File Photo
FORMER high commissioner to the UK John Jeremie, SC, found a new appreciation for Queen Elizabeth II when he met her in 2008 to deliver his credentials for the post at Buckingham Palace.
Speaking to Newsday from London on Friday, Jeremie, also an ex-attorney general, described an experience he shared with the queen at the formal ceremony
He said he had never spoken to anyone about the full details of their conversation, but found it appropriate to share them now, after her death on Thursday, which ended a record 70-year reign.
Giving context to their meeting, Jeremie explained, “When you go to present your credentials, all of the other Caribbean Commonwealth high commissioners would normally take part and they would tell you, ‘You need to bow, you need to wear gloves,’
“The queen of Denmark, for example, would not shake your hands unless you’re wearing gloves.
“But Elizabeth was different.”
He had met the queen during social events before and after the ceremony, but enjoyed a particularly fascinating conversation on that occasion, which led to his greater respect for the monarch.
A meeting with the queen is almost always preceded by a thorough briefing, particularly in a formal setting, during which the person is coached on the proper manner of approach and movement around her. For example, the person is instructed not to turn their back on the queen but instead step back after the greeting.
Jeremie, however, did not abide by all the rules.
“On the morning (of the ceremony), the palace sent the carriage for me at the High Commission.
“Once I was at the palace, the queen was extremely friendly – and (in the photo provided), you can see I’m standing upright, not bowing, and that was (a conscious move) on my part, because I previously expressed some disquiet about a representative from a republic bowing and taking part in those parts of the ceremony that I didn’t think were consistent with our republican status.
“She did not make a fuss out of those things,” he said.
That was not what changed his perception of the queen, but the substance of a conversation they had at the reception.
“What she said was remarkable, because this is a woman who at the time would have been into her 80s, and she is telling me about things that took place around the time of independence – when I wasn’t even born.:
Paraphrasing, he said the queen told him, “This is how it was supposed to be: there was supposed to be a (West Indies) federation, and the talk was that the island states would come together.'”
Jeremie tried to explain to her that there was an attempt to do so, through Caricom.
“And she said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ She was completely on top of her game. She said, ‘Yes, that is a free trade area, and you all are struggling to have a court.
“‘I’m talking about deepening integration in the Caribbean where you have a court, a parliament for the Caribbean, much along the lines of (Europe).’
“Of course, that is a criticism that nobody can have of her, because we’ve played the fool in the Caribbean in terms of playing hot and cold with the integration movement.”
TT was benefiting from windfall profits from the oil and gas sectors at the time of their meeting. There were also preliminary discussions about a pipeline connecting to Jamaica.
Jeremie said the queen told him, “Listen, these things sound like pipe dreams, but your Prime Minister (Patrick Manning) has the right idea, and you should encourage him.”
He said he shared that part of the conversation with Manning, who expressed interest in it. Jeremie said Manning never gave up on the idea of integration and its benefits to TT and the Commonwealth Caribbean.
He said the queen struck him as “exceptionally well informed. She was obviously well briefed, but more than that, she had her own knowledge about what took place around the time of independence, what the plans – written and unwritten – might have been at the time (and) what the vision was for the Caribbean, in terms of an integration movement, and the fact that we were kind of close to achieving that at various times.”
He referred to the short-lived West Indies Federation and Dr Eric Williams’s famous phrase, “one from ten leaves nought,” after Jamaica withdrew. TT later followed Jamaica, leading to the federation’s collapse.
Jeremie suggested the queen was more humble than widely believed or expected and was personally invested in the welfare of the Commonwealth, not least the Caribbean community.
“She was a remarkable woman,” Jeremie said.
Jeremie is in the UK for a few weeks, teaching at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he is presenting on corruption and transnational crime.