Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II proved to be the Queen of Hearts on her memorable final visit to Huddersfield.
Hundreds of people turned out to welcome the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they went walkabout in St George’s Square before a joint concert by Huddersfield Choral Society and Opera North.
On a visit to West Yorkshire on May 24 2007, the Queen and the Duke spent several hours in Huddersfield.
Her Majesty’s visit started with lunch at the University of Huddersfield, prepared by local restaurant chain Mumtaz. The spicy Kashmiri spread was described as being “fit for a Queen.”
The royal party was escorted to lunch by university Vice-Chancellor Prof Bob Cryan and guests included some of the recently-appointed Huddersfield Ambassadors, community leaders with a background in business, the arts, sport and academia.
The Queen unveiled a foundation stone for the university’s Creative Arts Building, since renamed the Richard Steinitz Building.
In a busy schedule, the Queen also opened the third phase of The Media Centre in Friendly Street, Huddersfield, a business start-up centre for creative businesses, and met business leaders.
The Duke left the Queen to carry out a solo engagement visiting an eco-social housing development, the Circus building, in Primrose Hill.
The couple then came back together for a walkabout in St George’s Square before they took their seats for a musical farewell from world-renowned Huddersfield Choral Society and Opera North, the first time they had performed together.
The Queen met civic dignitaries including then council leader Robert Light, the Mayor of Kirklees Jean Calvert and chief executive Rob Vincent.
Former councillor Mr Light, who escorted the Royal couple with his wife Sharon, recalled an unforgettable day, both personally and for the town.
“It was an amazing day for Huddersfield and for everyone who was part of it,” said Mr Light, who was council leader between 2006 and 2009.
“It was the first time in recent memory that Huddersfield had come together as a town to celebrate together.”
It was also the first time a stage had been built in the new-look St George’s Square and in the evening the choral society and Opera North gave a gala performance called The People’s Proms. The following night The People’s Party concert featured The Ordinary Boys.
Mr Light, 57, said: “The Queen was interested in everything and so bubbly. You could tell from her body language that she enjoyed the experience.”
There was a first, too, for Her Majesty as she went on a stage for the first time ever in the UK.
“It’s just something she never did,” said Mr Light. “I think the only time she’d ever been on a stage before was in Canada.”
Mr Light recalled that after the Royal couple had parted to go on separate visits they were to meet up again afterwards in St George’s Square. However, the Queen was late and the Duke was characteristically twitchy!
“The idea was that I would escort the Queen and my wife Sharon would escort the Duke,” said Mr Light.
“The Duke arrived back first and he was pacing around. Sharon escorted him to meet some veterans and came back and the Queen still hadn’t arrived. He was asking: ‘Where is she? She’s supposed to be here!’”
The Queen did, of course, arrive in the Square and Mr Light escorted her onto the station platform and the stage. She almost left him standing on the platform too. “The Queen was only small but she didn’t half walk fast!” he smiled.
Before she left, the Queen shared with Mr Light that the place they were heading for next was Balmoral, the Scottish estate she loved so much and where she died.
“We are really looking forward to going,” said the Queen. “Philip is going direct but I have to go to Edinburgh first to meet Alex Salmond (Scottish First Minister).”
With that, the Queen gave seasoned politician Mr Light a knowing look and there was a twinkle in her eye.
Mr Light, a Conservative councillor for Birstall, stood down from Kirklees Council in 2018. He is now chairman of the Consumer Council for Water.
He paid tribute to Her Majesty’s dedication and service and said: “She has been the Queen for all of our lives. It’s a scary world out there and she has been that constant. In a time of so much change I felt we still needed that stability a little longer.”
Tributes to Her Majesty have also been led by Prof Bob Cryan, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.
Prof Cryan said: “When I reflect on my time as Vice-Chancellor the moment that stands out is the visit by Her Majesty the Queen in May 2007.
“It was a tremendously special occasion and there was a wonderful sense of excitement on campus.
“For a man from Deighton to be hosting Her Majesty and Prince Philip at his hometown university and having lunch with them is a memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
“Like many in the nation, the Queen has been one of the few constants in my life and I feel a real sense of loss.
“She was an extraordinary lady that commanded the respect of world leaders and will be greatly missed.”
Gallery of images by MARK HEMINGWAY. Contact Mark HERE. Images are copyright and cannot be used without permission.
Queen Elizabeth II visited Huddersfield on four occasions, however her first visit to the town came on July 26 1949 when she was aged 23 and still Princess Elizabeth.
The Princess and the Duke of Edinburgh were greeted on the steps of Huddersfield Town Hall and she inspected a contingent of soldiers from the Light and Heavy Artillery Regiments and the 7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in Ramsden Street.
There was a choral recital in the Town Hall before the Royal couple went to Huddersfield Town’s Leeds Road ground where 8,000 children were gathered.
As Queen she returned to Huddersfield on October 14 1971 to open Scammonden Dam and the Pennine section of the newly-built M62 motorway.
Several thousand people greeted her arrival at Huddersfield Railway Station where the Royal train overshot the red carpet and the Queen had to step down onto the bare stone platform.
From there the Royal cavalcade travelled up New Hey Road to Outlane and onto Scammonden.
The weather is notorious on England’s highest stretch of motorway and the M62’s chief engineer Geoffrey Hunter, recalling the visit some years later, said: “The Palace had to be warned that it might be a lovely day and the sun might shine – or it might not.”
The Queen came prepared in a hat that was firmly secured and a warm alpaca wool coat – but it turned out to be a pleasant, sunny day.
It was almost two decades before Her Majesty would return. On November 30 1990 the Queen officially opened the new headquarters for the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) in New North Parade, Huddersfield.
Members of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment hoisted the Royal Standard as the Queen arrived and she was received by the Mayor of Kirklees Tom O’Donovan, who was also BARLA’s development officer.
Her Majesty unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion and during her visit she was presented with rugby league balls and shirts for her grandchildren, William and Harry, by association chairman Alan Gibb.
Looking back on the visit some 10 years later, former chairman and chief executive Maurice Oldroyd said: “The Queen’s visit was obviously a historic occasion and did so much to raise our profile and status within the world of sport.”
Kirklees Council has opened books of condolence at Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and Cleckheaton Town Halls.