A former Royal Air Force squadron leader has told of a unique assignment when he flew seven of the queen’s favourite corgis from England to Scotland so they could join her in Balmoral.
Jazz Bhangu, now a pilot with Etihad, was initially anxious when he was told that Queen Elizabeth II's treasured pets Emma, Linnet, Monty, Willow, Holly, Vulcan and Candy, would be allowed to roam free in the seven-seater jet.
“Despite my initial apprehension, they turned out to be incredibly well behaved and clearly seasoned travellers, every bit the VVIP canines,” the Abu Dhabi resident said.
The queen owned more than 30 corgis and dorgis – a cross between dachshunds and corgis – and loved pets ever since her father, King George VI, bought her first dog Susan in 1944 for her 18th birthday.
Media have reported how some of her beloved corgis, most of who were descendants of Susan, nipped at the ankles of staff and police officers.
But Mr Bhangu had an excellent conduct report to share of the flight in July 2006.
“Her majesty missed her dogs, I guess, so she wanted to fly them up to Balmoral,” he said.
“It was a very small aircraft and that they would be free to run around the aircraft ... well, that was a surprise.
“I was told, ‘no, the queen will not have them in cages’.
"But I was impressed as they were very well behaved. If you told them to sit, they would sit.”
So did the corgis take a royal tour of the cockpit? They did, but only when they were told they could, he said.
'Interested in people'
Serving as a pilot at RAF’s 32 The Royal Squadron and responsible for flying the British royal family, Mr Bhangu said it had been an honour to fly the queen’s husband, the late Prince Philip, King Charles III, who was then Prince of Wales, and his sons Prince William and Harry.
Mr Bhangu did not fly the queen as she travelled on a larger aircraft.
“Though my interactions with the royals were naturally limited and quite formal, I found them to always be extremely pleasant and very upbeat,” he said.
“I remember flying the Duke of Edinburgh a few times in relatively quick succession.
“He had a quick sense of humour. Once he started to recognise me, he would share a cheeky joke as he boarded.”
Mr Bhangu had short conversations with the now King Charles III, whom he said made an effort to learn more about the crew.
“He was very interested in you,” he said. "In general, all of them asked a lot of questions about where you were brought up, how long you were in the air force."
“These were very short encounters but always seemed meaningful. They were very interested in people.”
Mr Bhangu has a special link with the arrangements in London for the queen’s funeral on Monday.
As part of his former role as deputy flight commander of operations, he periodically reviewed relevant sections of Operation London Bridge, the main funeral plan for Queen Elizabeth II in the event that she passed away.
The entire schedule of what would happen when the queen died was regularly run through, as the RAF is in charge of repatriating the her body.
More than a decade later, the unit has changed, the planes are new but the high level of service remains constant.
“I see on the news the same squadron is flying out,” he said.
“They are super-busy now doing their job and it’s great to have been a part of it.
“The aircraft I flew are retired but the ethos and the principle remains the same. It is a real privilege to be entrusted to fly the senior royals.”
From his Abu Dhabi home, Mr Bhangu said watching people queue for more than 24 hours for a glimpse of the queen’s coffin and the reactions from world leaders filled him with pride.
“The outpouring of praise and respect for the late queen, from within the UK and globally, is testimony to her incredible service,” he said.
“It’s a real sense of pride that I was able to serve her in the armed forces and also being a Brit.
“The UAE is also marking this time and when I look out at the UAE flag at half-mast it makes you feel like we are all connected.
“In this global world she was respected the world over and you feel part of the mourning here.”
It is also an emotional time for his wife and journalist Amandeep Bhangu, who met the queen at a garden party hosted by the royal family at Buckingham Palace.
She shared with the queen how her great-grandfather Attar Singh had met the queen’s grandfather King George V when invited to London to receive the Order of British India for his service in the British Indian Army in the First World War.
"Being in the presence of her majesty, even for a brief encounter, has left a lasting impression,” she said.
“I witnessed for myself the power of her personality, which held her in such high regard with world leaders and the public alike.”