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Anne Hailes: Cherished memories of two special ladies, Queen Elizabeth and Kim Lenaghan

Pacemaker Press 21/10/10 The Queen on the weather forecast with Frank Mitchell during her visit to The UTV studio as they launch their new HD station at Belfast yesterday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Anne Hailes

ELEVEN days ago, for most of us life was going along as usual. We were planning for the weekend, getting the shopping in, working in offices and shops, arranging nights out.

Then it all changed. Queen Elizabeth died and it was all a bit of a shock. Later on that Thursday, September 8, the wheels of the palace began to turn mighty fast.

This woman of 96 was a superstar; she worked hard, was kind and thoughtful, and also a fashion icon. Her death had been rehearsed many times but as it happened she died in Scotland and that country was superb in its response.

Hats off to the television companies, to journalists and reporters for their coverage - how they kept going was remarkable, I was exhausted and I was only watching. For me ITV won over BBC with Chris Ship getting my X-factor award.

SOMETHING SPECIAL

Walking through gardens and parks and along the queue into Westminster Hall to the lying in state meant journalists interviewing the public.

What are your memories? Did you ever meet the queen? The answers didn't amount to much - pity that Frank Mitchell hadn't been there, his story is something special.

It was October 21 2010, and an ordinary morning. The popular weatherman arrived at Havelock House. The previous day his boss at UTV had taken him aside, warning him to be prepared for a special guest to wander on to the weather set.

Frank is always a snappy dresser and with a visit to the make-up department he really looked the part when the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh came walking in during rehearsals.

"We had prepared for a special guest but were not aware just how special," he said. The penny had dropped when he was approached by a woman from Buckingham Palace: "She instructed me on the protocol - 'do not touch or instruct'.

"The queen was incredibly friendly and interested in the technicalities of how we project images onto a large curtain, what we call a green screen, and as we talked, director William Scott made the changes from the control room.

"She was fascinated and asked very probing questions. In my ear William was telling me to get her to look into the camera - but I wasn't able to 'touch or instruct'."

So, ever the quick thinking professional, Frank said to her: "Ma'am, for me to get the best shot I look into that camera - and then she looked straight into the camera.

"She was incredibly sharp. I was left with the Duke and he walked over to the curtain and said, 'Now we have a peek, that's always where the junk is kept'... and he was right.

"I was amazed at the coverage of the visit. Every newspaper carried it next day, I was in Hello! magazine and on the Buckingham Palace website for weeks, and the pictures went round the world."

No wonder - not only a unique experience for Frank, now broadcasting on U105 every day, but also a unique experience for a woman he remembers as being witty, friendly and someone who enjoyed her visit.

A FRIEND TO ALL WHO KNEW HER

There have been other deaths in recent days. I was at a funeral last Monday and there was another on Friday, that of broadcaster Kim Lenaghan. Kim was only 61 when she died at home after a fall and time in hospital.

Sheila Davidson was a close friend, who calls Kim her 'sister'. "I have two sisters I adore, and they know that, but they also know that Kim was even closer to me," she says.

"My parents moved from Enniskillen to Belfast and at the baby clinic my mum met Val and they became close friends. And so I met Kim - we were literally babes-in-arms and we grew up together.

"She was an amazing singer. When we were eight I wanted to be just like her, always wanted to come up to her standard, but as far as singing was concerned I had no chance.

"She introduced me to jazz and blues, especially Ella Fitzgerald and my favourite song, so relevant today, Every Time We Say Goodbye."

For BBC colleague Richard Yarr, Kim's death was a dreadful shock. "We were in touch every day. She called me her guinea pig when it came to food, and many a night at 7.30pm the phone would ring and Kim would insist that I come round to her house to try a dish - 'You had your dinner yet?'

"Usually yes, but that didn't matter - 'You're coming round to me'."

The two first met at a BBC staff Christmas party. "It was 2000 and I was standing at the side of the room looking lost when this wonderful woman came and dragged me on to the dance floor," Richard recalls.

"That was the start of a remarkable friendship - she was the sister I never had.

"We went on trips together and often shared a traybake in a garden centre. We'd laugh out loud and people would come up to her in delight - 'You wouldn't happen to be Kim Lenaghan off the radio?' She was always delighted."

ROMANTIC MEETING

Our deep sympathies go to her husband Andrew Jones. He always listened to Kim on the radio and on occasions messaged her on Facebook. Once they happened to be on the same flight and he recognised her voice, asking the usual question - "Is that Kim Lenaghan?"

Remembering him, she responded, "Would you be Andrew Jones?" And that was the beginning of five happy years.

In Belfast he invited her for coffee but she wasn't able to accept but in turn invited him to spend Christmas with her.

Sheila Davidson remembers he arrived with a gift from Fortnum & Mason. Not only were people drawn to this charismatic woman, when she went to get a rescue dog, one little grey lurcher escaped and jumped into the boot of the car. Mable is now searching the house for a beloved mistress.

As the queen herself said: Grief is the price we pay for love.

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