There’s little doubt that Queen Elizabeth is one of the most loved figures in the UK, if not the world. She has been in the public eye all her life and has made history as the longest reigning monarch ever. In addition to this notable achievement, she is the most travelled world leader.
But being such a well-travelled, familiar and public figure has its downsides too – she has been in danger on more than one occasion from people with sinister motives. Luckily, in her life she has often proved herself to be famously cool-headed and resourceful.
Here are three times people sought to assassinate the queen, and how she escaped unharmed.
An official royal tour is a much-anticipated event, and in 1970 Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the late Prince Philip, were on a tour of Australia. It was on this trip, according to former Detective Superintendent Cliff McHardy, that an attempt was made on the queen’s life.
For one stretch of their travels, the monarch and her husband were to go by rail from Sydney to Orange in New South Wales on April 29. Would-be assassins, McHardy told Macquarie Radio, had placed a log on the train tracks in an attempt to derail the locomotive as it neared Lithgow. Another train had scouted the tracks an hour before the queen’s train came through, finding nothing, so the log’s subsequent appearance fuelled suspicions there was an assassination plot.
The monarch’s train struck the log, but was reportedly travelling too slowly for any damage to be done. No one was ever arrested for the alleged plot – and in fact the story only came to light in 2009 when McHardy spoke out about it on his retirement. He claimed the government had successfully covered up the story up until then to avoid embarrassment.
Trooping the Colour, 1981
Trooping the Colour is an annual ceremonial event held in London, and on June 13, 1981, crowds gathered along the Mall to watch the queen attending the ceremony on horseback. In the crowd was a 17-year-old named Marcus Sarjeant. As the queen rode by, he fired six blanks from a starting pistol. According to reports, the queen’s horse, Burmese, was startled, but the sovereign managed to calm him down and rode on.
Sarjeant was arrested and brought to trial. He admitted that he wanted to be famous and had been inspired by the assassination of John Lennon the year before, according to The Times. He was sentenced to five years in prison under the Treason Act, given that he had “wilfully discharged at or near Her Majesty the queen a gun with the intent to alarm or distress Her Majesty”.
New Zealand, 1981
Just a few short months after being shot at on the Mall, the queen again faced an assassination attempt during a visit to New Zealand in 1981 while visiting a museum in the city of Dunedin.
Christopher John Lewis, 17, was waiting in a nearby building and fired out of the window as the queen was alighting from a vehicle. He missed, although witnesses reported hearing a “loud crack”, according to various media outlets. Lewis was arrested eight days later and served three years, partly in a psychiatric facility.
Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.