Lady Mary Peters says attending the Queen’s burial committal service at Windsor Castle will be a “privilege on what will be a very moving occasion”.
Queen Elizabeth appointed the Olympic great to numerous honours including most recently the Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter in 2019.
That particular honour means Lady Mary will be at Windsor Castle next Monday when the Queen is laid to rest.
“She was so human and loving and friendly and warm,” said Lady Mary.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra Time, the 1972 Olympic gold medallist spoke of her final meeting with the Queen at Windsor Castle back in June, during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
“I’ve been very saddened,” she said. “I last saw Her Majesty at the Garter Day in Windsor in June and I had a private moment with her as we all did and she told me about Paddington [Bear] and the fun it had been and how her American great grandson Archie had woken up in time to see the flyover on her pageant day which was lovely.”
‘She called me Mary’
The Northern Ireland athletics great recalled first meeting the Queen after she arrived home from the Mexico Olympics with the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team in 1968.
Their subsequent many encounters included her 20-minute private audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2019 after being appointed Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, one of the highest honours awarded by the Queen, as the Olympic hero moved up from her previous Dame title.
She said: “We just sat alone in her sitting room. She explained to me all the regalia of the garter.
“We talked about Northern Ireland and she was so knowledgeable about the events that were happening at that time and it was just a lovely afternoon’s chat.
“I was privileged to have her call me ‘Mary’. She awarded me the MBE and [was there] when I became a Dame and you could tell by her smile that she knew who you were.”
Next Monday’s burial ceremony at Windsor Castle following the earlier funeral service at Westminster Abbey will see Lady Mary sitting beside former prime minister John Major in a seat once occupied by William Gladstone.
“I have my own banner hanging above my seat which has the Olympic rings and oak trees on it,” she said.
“It’s such a privilege to be part of that historic event but I’m sure we’ll all be very moved by the occasion.”
Lady Mary has also met King Charles on several occasions and recalls, during her stint at Belfast’s Lord Lieutenant, the new sovereign once sending on a gift of a bottle of rare Scotch whiskey – and a handwritten note – to one of her assistant Lord Lieutenants after hearing that he was about to undergo a heart transplant.
She said: “I was able to read the hand-written note to Jim in his hospital bed in which the then Prince of Wales said that he was hoping the operation was going to go well. I’ve seen his kindness.”