From 3D speeches and Paddington Bear sketches to her first tweet and passion for photography, here’s a look back at Elizabeth II’s love of technology over her 70-year reign.
Whether it was innovative air travel like with Concorde in 1977, or the latest way to communicate via a thing called an email, or even a video call and a tweet, Queen Elizabeth always occupied a front row seat when it comes to the history of tech innovation.
She saw extraordinary change in tech throughout her reign, so here’s a look at the Queen Elizabeth’s biggest tech moments throughout the years.
Back in October 1940, at the height of the Blitz, the then 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth delivered her first morale-boosting speech from Windsor. It was broadcast on the radio during BBC’s Children’s Hour radio, to reassure children being evacuated from London, who would be ‘separated from loved ones’.
Following that, her decision to televise her coronation in 1953, against the strong advice of Churchill, was a major TV event, and one that also triggered a rush purchase of TV sets (and rentals) across Britain.
By 1957, the Queen delivers the first televised annual Christmas address in black and white, making history in the process. ‘I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct’, she said of this broadcast landmark.
According to the Telephone museum, Queen Elizabeth II made the first ever direct-dial long-distance call made in the UK.
Otherwise known as a subscriber trunk call, it was made from the Central Telephone Exchange in Bristol, to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, 300 miles away, and marked a major milestone in telecommunications history. ‘This is the Queen speaking from Bristol. Good afternoon, my Lord Provost,’ she said.
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Despite being one of the most photographed people on the planet, the Queen had a penchant for looking down the lens to capture her own subjects.
It started with the Box Brownie her father gave her before World War II, and subsequent to that time, a camera has seemingly been a firm fixture inside the Royal handbag. While on the other side of the lens, her majesty would often be spotted armed with a Leica M3, which she was given by the company in 1958, and features special Royal engravings.
This would later be upgraded to a more modern Leica M6 in the late 1980s. Her Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera (TLR) was another firm film favourite during the 1960s. As the name implies, it had two lenses of identical focal length: one transmitting the image to the film and the other functioning as a viewfinder and formed part of the focusing mechanism.
By the 1970s, she began travelling with a gold Rollei camera, and one of the smallest 35mm film cameras ever made; and by the early 2000s, the Canon Sure Shot Tele 80 film camera appeared to be her shooter of choice.
Years before commercial firms such as AOL started providing email services, and when email technology was in its infancy, the Queen became the first monarch to send an electronic message during a visit to an Army base in Malvern, England.
Connected to something called the ARPANET – a computer network that would eventually morph into the internet – British computer scientist Peter Kierstein, sometimes referred to as ‘the father of the European Internet’, was on hand to assist, and set The Queen up with her own email account on the network, and the username HME2 – standing for Her Majesty, Elizabeth II.
The email she sent announced the arrival of a new programming language, Coral 66, which had been developed at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was one of the most-travelled monarchs in history. Following her tour of Canada and the West Indies to mark her Silver Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II hopped aboard the supersonic Concorde plane she took from Bridgetown, Barbados.
She was also given the royal treatment with a tour of the cockpit. The flight time was three hours and 42 minutes.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited Ronald Reagan at his fabled mountain retreat in California. During this trip the president gifted her a Hewlett Packard computer, then valued at $24,000.
The Queen promptly had it installed in Buckingham Palace to track her horse-racing, breeding and training.
The Queen visited Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, US. On the last day of her tour, she was given the opportunity to speak with three astronauts living on the International Space Station via a live video link, who described the experiments they are working on during their time in orbit to their royal guest.
During that time, Prince Philip asked a burning question: ‘How do you answer the call of nature during space walks?’
During a visit to Google’s London HQ, the Queen personally uploaded her first video to YouTube. Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, she spent more than an hour being shown how the world’s most popular internet search engine was run.
The tour also included surveying Windsor Castle from Google Maps, and laughing at a viral clip of a baby with an infectious laugh. To mark the visit, the search engine changed its logo for the day to feature a profile of the monarch and a crown, and sent her majesty home with a plaque of some of the search engine’s code. Subsequent to that, she launched her own channel on the site to promote the British monarchy.
Eighty years after George V first broadcast a Christmas speech on the radio and started the much-loved December 25 tradition, the Queen’s annual address took on an extra dimension in 2012. In an attempt to celebrate how far technology had advanced during her reign, and to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, she recorded her Christmas Day broadcast to the UK and Commonwealth in 3D for the first time in its history.
Breaking with the established BBC/ITN production rotation for the first time and handing the reins to Sky News, her majesty thought the whole thing was ‘absolutely lovely’.
Did you know that the Queen’s favourite tech company was Samsung? This was confirmed earlier this year when the Royal House of the United Kingdom renewed the company’s Royal Warrant as a supplier of consumer electronics.
Issued since the 15th century, a Royal Warrant is an authorisation provided to businesses that supply goods or services to the royal household. The Korean company received its initial stamp of approval back in 2012 and has since been supplying its products to the Royal household. Sorry Apple.
To commemorate the opening of a new Science Museum exhibition in October, which celebrated the evolution of communication technology through the years, the Queen posted her first tweet in front of a live audience from a tablet. It read: ‘It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition at the @ScienceMuseum today and hope people will enjoy visiting.
Elizabeth R.’ When visiting again in 2019, she made her first post on Instagram, featuring a letter sent by computer pioneer Charles Babbage to her great-great-grandfather Prince Albert in July 1842. Drawing a connection between the letter and her outing, she wrote: ‘It seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum, which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors.’
Calling from the Oak Room in Windsor Castle, the Queen kept up with the times by dialling into her first video call after the coronavirus forced the country into lockdown.
During the call, which quickly went viral, the Queen and the Princess Royal chatted with four carers about the difficulties they were facing during the pandemic. The Queen went on to embrace video-calling technology and, in 2021, conducted 118 of her 192 engagements virtually.
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Who could forget when the Queen joined forces with everyone’s favourite marmalade sandwich-munching Peruvian bear. During a guest appearance as part of a pre-recorded sketch during her Platinum Jubilee, a CGI-generated Paddington joined the Queen for tea inside Buckingham Palace.
When Paddington finally offered her a marmalade sandwich from inside his hat, the Queen politely refused, pulling out her own sandwich from inside her handbag. The two-and-a-half minute skit went viral at the time, winning the hearts of millions.
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