BBC presenter Mark Carruthers has revealed for the first time his role behind the scenes in organizing the Queen’s visit to the Lyric Theater Belfast in 2012, during which she shook hands with Martin McGuinness.
r Carruthers said it was a “small challenge” because he is “first and foremost a political journalist” and he knows some people may find his involvement in hosting the event inappropriate.
But he said he did, wearing “his other hat” as Lyric chairman at the time, and he’s proud to have done so.
He described Elizabeth II as “very charming, delightful” and said that although the late Sinn Féin politician made a significant gesture towards reconciliation, it should be recognized that the Queen “reached too”.
The BBC presenter, who was chairman of Lyric for eight years, recalled being approached about the June 2012 visit by the Northern Ireland office and Peter Sheridan, chief executive of cross-border charity Co-operation Ireland.
“I was asked if the Lyric would be able to host an important meeting as it is a neutral space and a new building that is seen as part of the future of this place,” Mr Carruthers said.
“Over a period of about a week, there was a lot of secret planning that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about.
“Because I wore that hat as Chair of the Poetry, I felt really good about supporting the moderation because if the arts community couldn’t be involved in something so meaningful, who could?
“The BBC gave me a lot of support when I had this conversation with those in power.”
Mr Carruthers said it had been decided to hold an exhibition by Belfast artist Colin Davidson as a “focus” for the historic gathering at the theatre: “We then gathered 100 to 150 members of the arts community. The President of Ireland was there…Obviously the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.”
The BBC presenter said he “fell in at the deep end” hosting the Queen and would have preferred to remain in the background.
“I had absolutely no experience with such things. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have wanted to play a prominent role. I could see that some people might find it inappropriate or read something into it that shouldn’t be read into.”
Mr Carruthers said what struck him most about Elizabeth II was her small stature.
“The door of the Ranger Rover opened on Ridgeway Street and a small, tiny person slid off.
“She came across as very bird-like … She was very charming, very lovable, and very interested.”
The Queen was “delightful” when he showed her the theater.
Mr Carruthers stood in line alongside Mr McGuinness to shake her hand: “I really like it when the image used is the one that cuts me out but unfortunately the other one is used quite a bit and there I am standing and waiting.
“Some people may be offended, others may think that a political journalist shouldn’t deal with politics or peacebuilding, but sometimes you have to do the right thing.
“Looking back, it was a momentous event, and it was part of a larger arc — of relationships and how they’ve changed.”
Mr Carruthers said there may not have been enough appreciation for the size of the day’s challenge for Elizabeth II.
“I’ve often wondered what went through her mind when she realized everyone wanted to see one thing and one thing only: shaking hands with Martin McGuinness.
“He must have been nervous because there was a lot at stake for him – but also for her.
“Most people have said he stretched for the greater good, but the Queen stretched too.”
Mr Carruthers said he was “very pleased” to have introduced the monarch to Mr Davidson: “At the end of their Lyric visit I said to Peter Sheridan: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Colin to paint the Queen? ‘
“And we managed to make it happen. I think that’s really important for this place – that there’s an Irish painting, a Northern Irish painting of the Queen.
“Mr McGuinness attended the unveiling of the portrait at a Cooperation Ireland event in London four years later.”
Mr Carruthers said that despite some misgivings, he was delighted to have welcomed the Queen at the Lyric: “We witnessed something that mattered, that mattered and had real consequences.”
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/the-views-mark-carruthers-recalls-role-in-queens-visit-to-lyric-theatre-where-she-famously-greeted-martin-mcguinness-42012377.html The View’s Mark Carruthers recalls role in Queen’s visit to Lyric Theatre where she famously greeted Martin McGuinness