The S.T.G. had kindly nominated me as driver of Car 53 with the royal party aboard for a forthcoming Royal visit to the Museum, Brian Quinn to be conductor. At a meeting before the visit I asked Carol Haddow (Museums manager) whether I should offer the controls to H.R.H. Princess Anne and was told “It’s up to you”.
On the day, I turned up slightly early and at ﬁrst was refused entry by the armed security people who were everywhere on the Museum site. I persuaded the guards that I should be admitted.
The Princess and her group were to walk from the entrance down to the cottages & mine and then to board the car. I was only then advised that pickup point would be right at the start of the rising curve in the rails – not an ideal spot to start a “raw learner”!!
The Princess boarded the car accompanied by the “great & the good” from all over Lanarkshire. I showed her a newspaper clipping (supplied by Brian Longworth) showing the then Duke of York, later George V1 and her grandfather, driving a Glasgow tram – I asked the Princess if she “would care to emulate him” and drive 53??? She agreed and we went to the controls with canopy switch off whilst she learned about notching up and applying the handbrake. Because of the starting point this took perhaps a little longer than would have been the case with a straight ﬂat run but Princess Anne was quick to understand and very quick to react to instruction without question.
Canopy switch was thrown “on” and away we went. As we approached the main entrance to the exhibition hall which was to be the drop off point, I said “Power off now Ma’am, and start braking because there is a great deal of press and photographers all over the track ahead – we mustn’t give way to temptation!” She replied “It is a bit of a temptation!” and smiled. We overshot the drop off point by only a few feet because she is very lightly built and I had to put some weight behind the handbrake too. She was most gracious – when she thanked me she said that the car was the fastest electric vehicle she had ever driven and that she had enjoyed it very much. The Newspaper people swarmed around the car and I was asked for name etc., etc., and told “That’ll be front page of the “Record” tomorrow” – or that’ll be all over the “Herald”, etc. etc. since all had got good photographs of the Princess at the controls as 53 approached.
After the Princess had left the Museum, the Group members adjourned to a local hostelry for a belated lunch. This momentous occasion was on 11th September, 2001. (or as the Americans call it 9/11) As we sat down to dine Pat, my wife, phoned me to say that “some idiot has hit the Twin Towers in New York with an aircraft – if the pub has a T.V. go and see it” I had just weeks before piloted a Cessna aircraft from Thruxton to Isle of Wight and back so she knew of my aircraft interest. Members of the S.T.G. had recently been standing on the roof viewing platform on top of one of the towers so as a group we stood in front of the T.V. in time to see the second aircraft strike! All this meant that the publicity the Museum had hoped to create in the press the next day was wiped out by the horriﬁc events in New York.