Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday prompts recollections from retired Mountie
Darrell LaFosse headed the Queen's security detail on her 2005 visit to Canada
Millions of people around the world have been closely following the 90th birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth, no one more than retired RCMP assistant commissioner Darrell LaFosse.
In 2005, LaFosse was the Canadian police officer assigned to the Queen's personal security detail during her visit to Canada.
While many other RCMP and municipal officers were involved in security duty during the Queen's visit, LaFosse was the most visible, responsible for her personal safety while she was on Canadian soil.
LaFosse told Mainstreet Cape Breton that his role in the Queen's protection detail began with a flight to London, where he was presented to Her Majesty just ahead of the royal visit.
'Boots and breeches and red serge'
"I'm in boots and breeches and red serge and the first thing Her Majesty says to me the first time she lays eyes on me is, 'It's so good to see that uniform again!' and that put me completely at ease," he said.
Immediately after that meeting, the royal entourage left for the airport and Canada.
"When we landed in Regina, my role was to basically be at her elbow for two weeks and it was amazing. She's a very special person, a very special, classy, down-to-earth individual who has nothing but time for people," said LaFosse.
He says before the visit, he'd seen a vintage photo of an earlier royal visit involving the Queen Mother. In it, his security counterpart had his foot almost directly in front of the Queen.
Watching out for TV cables
"He was afraid she was going to trip over the curb, so I had this burnt on my brain, because she's looking at the crowd, interested in the crowd and what not," said LaFosse.
"And of course, the TV cables ... I was scared to death that she was going to trip. I'm in charge of her personal security, worried about any kind of an attack, and my biggest concern was her tripping over TV cables."
LaFosse says he was at the Queen's elbow for her entire visit, including her day off at the Jasper Lodge in Alberta, where he slept in the room next to hers in case anything should threaten her safety.
His favourite memories of the visit are tied to personal touches the Queen extended to some of the people she encountered.
On one occasion, Her Majesty had just left an afternoon reception hosted by Saskatchewan's lieutenant-governor.
Tears 'streaming down his face'
"There's a crowd gathering and Her Majesty glances over and there's a gentleman — and I'll probably get emotional even thinking about it now — but he's standing alone, he's there with a blazer on and a fedora. And he had his campaign ribbons on.
"She broke away and I went with her and she went over and thanked him for his service. This was an older gentleman, and the tears were streaming down his face. Because he had fought for her. In his mind, he had fought for her."
After two weeks in his company, the Queen had a surprise for LaFosse and was called into her room.
"Both she and the prince (Philip) presented me with ... the [Royal] Victorian Order. That is only given to individuals that provide a personal service to Her Majesty. That is something I'll always treasure."
LaFosse says he was honoured by his selection to the Queen's detail, which he counts among the two or three greatest experiences of his life, but he has one regret.
Following protocol, he went outside her room on the evening of a state dinner in Alberta.
"I'm standing there waiting and all of a sudden, the doors open up and out walks the Queen and she is in what the Brits call her 'sparkly bits,' said LaFosse.
"And she's got her pearl inlay dress on that you see in official photographs, with her tiara, and I'll always regret I didn't say, 'Ma'am, you look fantastic!' because she looked like a Queen ... She radiated when she came out of that room."
with files from Mainstreet Cape Breton