Man on a mission: to find a royal picnic spot

A British expatriate recalls being tasked with finding an ideal beach for a royal luncheon, and other residents of the Emirates share their memories of the Queen's first visit in 1979.

In 1979, the British expatriate George Chapman was given a very special mission: to seek out the perfect place for a Royal picnic.
Mr Chapman, who moved to Dubai in January 1951, was the chairman of Port Rashid when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, sailed in on the royal yacht Britannia.
But the father of two was also given a special task of his own - to seek out a worthy quiet spot.
"I had a message from my office in London saying the Queen's secretary had been discussing with them the route the ship was taking [from the UAE to Oman]," he recalled. "She wanted to stop somewhere on the way and I was asked to recommend a suitable place."
Mr Chapman picked a "delightful beach" on Ghanim Island, at the head of the Ras Musandam peninsula. "We took our boat up there to check that everything was just the same. As far as I remember they visited the island as suggested."
Accompanying him on the reconnaissance was his eldest daughter Vanessa, who also lives in Dubai.
"When the Queen was here I remember the family going to Musandam by boat during the school holiday," she said. "We arrived in the Khasab bay and my father was collected by boat and given an armed escort to meet the Wali of Khasab and we weren't sure we would see him again!"
The Queen also popped into The British School Al Khubairat to see hundreds of children in their Sunday best, wearing special hats they had made for the event.
Mary Corrado's daughter Marisa, then five, was a pupil. Mrs Corrado said the youngsters were "thrilled" to be in the company of a royal, but that not everything went according to plan. "It was a lovely day, and an eventful one for James in particular. When the procession of cars was leaving the school he unfortunately got in the way and ended up with a broken leg. It was a day he will never forget I'm sure."
Marisa, who now lives in Jordan, said her most memorable moment was when the Queen waved to all the pupils as she was arriving at the school. "It felt like she was looking right at me."
Mrs Corrado moved to Abu Dhabi with her husband Martin, a financial adviser, in 1977. He works with Sheikh Suroor bin Mohammed Al Nayhan, and was heavily involved in organising part of the 1979 visit.
As part of the tour, the Queen visited the newly opened Le Meridien Hotel in what is now the Tourist Club area. A majlis was set up in the hotel grounds for her to enjoy tea with some of the Ruling family.
"It was a huge event," said Mrs Corrado. "Of course there was security, but if you knew about the visit you were able to have a look. I imagine it will be different this time."
This week the Queen and Prince Philip will not visit Dubai, where in 1979 she inaugurated the municipality building.
Ramesh Shukla, a Karama-based photographer, has a cache of photos to remind him of the visit. He was invited by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, then the chairman of the Municipality, to photograph the Queen.
"She was very happy," said Mr Shukla, now 72. "She made time to speak to each and every official and office worker who was there."
He still remembers the few words he exchanged with the Queen. He told her he was a member of the Royal Photographers Society. "She smiled, thanked me for taking the photos and shook my hand."
Local journalist Chris Manders, was in his 30s at the time. "Dubai was very colourful with lots of Union Jacks around the city," he said. "She drove around in a chocolate-brown coloured Rolls-Royce and lots of people just wanted to look."
Young Emiratis, he said, were especially interested as many of them had visited London and seen Buckingham Palace. "This time I expect it will be the same," he said.
For a video of the Queen's visit to the country in 1979, click here.
munderwood@thenational.ae
* With additional reporting by Sean McLain

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