Queen Elizabeth II “photobombed” the news on Friday in one of the more surreal moments in live broadcasting history as she officially opened the BBC’s revamped Broadcasting House in central London.
As BBC News presenters Julian Worricker and Sophie Long addressed viewers from their glass-windowed studio, the queen, who was being given a studio tour, loomed into view behind them, peering intently from the newsroom.
The two turned to see the diminutive queen, resplendent in turquoise coat and hat, linger for several long seconds as BBC journalists crowded behind her raised a resounding cheer.
Staff had apparently been instructed to remain in their seats during the royal visit, but ignored orders from on high and swamped the monarch, snapping away on cameraphones.
It provided one of the more bizarre spectacles during the one-and-a-half-hour visit, which was to inaugurate the new extension to the broadcaster’s London headquarters. Another was the sight of the queen listening politely in the Radio 1 Live Lounge to a performance by singer Danny O’Donoghue, of the BBC talent show The Voice, and his band the Script, as they sang a cover version of David Bowie’s song Heroes.
While not in the station’s target audience, the 87-year-old queen — a classical music lover who normally wears earplugs when duty requires her attendance at pop concerts — nevertheless revealed surprising knowledge of popular culture when O’Donoghue told her he was playing the Glastonbury festival.
“Oh Glastonbury, the place you get covered in mud?” she remarked drily.
He replied: “You’ve got to bring good wellies.”
The visit went ahead despite the absence of the Duke of Edinburgh, who had been due to accompany his wife, but is instead to undergo exploratory abdominal surgery that will require him to spend two weeks in hospital.
Prince Philip, who is 92 on Monday, was admitted to the London Clinic on Thursday for the planned admission following a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It means that a plaque, unveiled by the queen during the visit, will have to be returned for reinscription, as it says she was accompanied by the duke.
The veteran broadcaster and BBC Radio 4 Today program inquisitor-in-chief John Humphrys, who met the queen in a line-up of presenters, inquired how he was.
“I have no idea,” the queen replied shrugging her shoulders. “He has only just gone in.”
Humphrys’s next encounter with her, when he presented her with a digital radio, also failed to elicit much in the way of smalltalk by the monarch. As he wished her happy hours listening to it, she thanked him, but told him: “Well, I don’t get an awful lot of chance.”
In the Today program studio, James Naughtie and Sian Williams were presenting a nostalgic program about the BBC’s long decades of public broadcasting when the queen was shown in.
In keeping with her policy of never giving interviews, she was spared a grilling by Naughtie. Instead, she delivered a short address officially opening the building, in which she referred to a previous visit to Broadcasting House with her husband shortly before her coronation 60 years ago.
“I was struck then, as I am now, by the sheer pace of change which has transformed your industry over the past 60 years; years during which broadcasting has enriched our lives in so many ways,” she said.