Revealed: the secret of the queen's fabled Cape Town speech
Author says it wasn't even given in Cape Town, and explains how Zimbabwe fits into the story
It has gone down in history as the key speech of the queen’s service, laying out her pledge to devote herself to Commonwealth duties forever more.
Delivered on her 21st birthday, as Princess Elizabeth undertook a major tour with her parents in SA, it is said to have reduced Winston Churchill to tears, becoming known as the “Cape Town speech” ever since. But newly public evidence, uncovered in the diaries, letters and tour schedules of the Royal Archives, has identified a “fascinating little mystery” over the speech, indicating it was not delivered live or indeed recorded in Cape Town at all.
In fact, research suggests it was carefully recorded a week earlier at a hotel in what is now Zimbabwe, allowing the young princess to read it without fear of ruining her birthday under pressure.
It is regularly quoted in books, television programmes and newspaper articles about the queen for its most famous line: “My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family.”
A new book, Queen of the World by Robert Hardman, has suggested it was impossible for the speech to have been delivered at 7pm in Cape Town on her birthday, cross-referencing the sun-dappled photographs of the princess reading it with the timings of April sunsets, and unpublished diary accounts.
One such diary, kept by Captain Lewis Ritchie, the king’s press secretary, and now locked in the Royal Archives, has an entry for Sunday, April 13 1947 at Victoria Falls Hotel in what was then Rhodesia: “At 6pm, Princess Elizabeth recorded her speech for the BBC. It was afterwards played off for Her Royal Highness to hear and was a great triumph.”
It was later broadcast from Cape Town as if live.
The information will alter the understanding of Princess Elizabeth’s speech, which the Royal Collection Trust currently states as being “recorded in the garden of Government House in Cape Town”.
Records of the actual day of the princess’s 21st birthday show an “unrelenting” schedule of official duties followed by dinner, two balls and dancing long into the night. Hardman said: “None of which makes a jot of difference to the content or relevance of this great speech.”
However, it has always been a source of enormous pride to South Africans – and a key part of the modern Commonwealth narrative – that the future queen made her selfless act of dedication in SA.
It would now seem that Zimbabweans can stake a claim, too.
“Papers from the tour give a further insight into the young princess and her long reign to come. Letters from Sir Alan Lascelles, who served as private secretary to George VI and later the queen, show him write approvingly of the princess: “For a child of her years, she has got an astonishing solicitude for other people’s comfort; such unselfishness is not a normal characteristic in that family.”
The book also describes the queen’s many visits to Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s first major overseas tour to the same countries next month. A documentary of the same name, Queen of the World, will be broadcast on the UK on September 25.
– © The Daily Telegraph