Last Wave to a Princess
By Clif Chapman
Precision! That’s what it was going to be, precision! Precision was a norm when planning for a royal escort. It was 1967, the early days of my tour in the Traffic Division of the Edmonton Police Service. I was enjoying myself astride a big honking Harley.
Now, an escort of royalty was guaranteed to bring about an S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) bursting with the military mindset of our strict ex-military bosses. We were given the word; we were to escort none other than Princess Alexandra and her husband, The Honourable Angus Ogilvy. The route was planned from the north city limits to the CN Tower in downtown Edmonton. There, we would deliver the royal party to their private rail coach.
Nothing was left out of the planning. We were meticulously groomed; our bikes were washed, shined and tuned. We ran a full rehearsal for time checks and to identify any possible hazards along the route. Everything was in place and all alternative plans were tested. We were pretty pumped and were looking forward to an historic run.
The officer-in-charge (O/C) was an ex-sergeant major in the military. As he went over the final plans with us, he stressed that no one was to breathe outside the S.O.P. When the royal party entered their coach, the O/C would snap his saluting arm to his side. Then he would give a short crisp nod – a signal for us to mount our bikes, punch the starters and peel gracefully away. Pretty impressive! Those ‘couple of seconds’ at the end of the salute would prove to be interesting indeed!
The rehearsal run-through was going so well as we leapfrogged over the route that I lost my concentration approaching 105 Ave. racing south on 97 St. When rapidly leapfrogging along a parade route, it is easy to become disoriented and suddenly realize you have covered more ground than you thought. In these maneuvers, you had to take a static point at an intersection, hold all traffic there while the official party passed, then go flat out past the entourage, past your partner – who by then had stopped all the traffic at the next intersection – and speed to the intersection beyond him to once again block traffic and await the passing of the official party. It took skill, concentration and speed to get there on time and safely.
As I raced past the official party, I misread my position. I was still accelerating when my partner began his right turn across my path. I immediately realized my mistake and was painfully conscious that our commander was behind me in the lead car. He would spot any evasive action, so I laid down the longest, straightest single wheel motorcycle skid of my life and hoped all the white smoke would go unnoticed. It worked!
Retracing our route the next day, we made our way to the CN Tower. The building was a sea of faces as hundreds of office workers pressed to the glass for a brief look at passing royalty. Suddenly, I thought about the night before.
I had been invited to a nice little party. Because I was working the escort the next day, I didn’t indulge in the cocktails but certainly enjoyed the other guests’ chatter. A girl in the group was excitedly telling the others that a Princess would be entraining right in front of her office building at the CN Tower. All the office personnel had time off to watch from the windows. The girl turned to me and inquired if I would get a chance to see the Princess. When I said, “Actually, I’m on the escort,” she shrieked, “We’ll all be at the windows, wave to us!” Wave to someone during a rigid formal escort? I guess not!
As we swung down the avenue past all those faces, I couldn’t help but wonder if the girl would be looking down at us saying, “Hey, I know one of those guys in the escort and I asked him to wave.” As we stood at rigid attention and the formalities were winding down, I thought of the two seconds we would have between the end of the salute and the nod to swing on our bikes. “You know,” I thought, “There would be time for a quick and very discrete wave.” I would never do anything to detract from the professionalism of the O/C or the members of the escort, but I thought; “This could be done without anyone noticing except the unknown girl and her friends.” It seemed like a challenge as well as a bit of fun.
The Princess and her husband walked through the throng of dignitaries and reached their coach. With one final royal wave, the Princess entrained, disappearing from the admiring crowd’s view. The O/C snapped his saluting arm to his side, gave the quick nod and we swung into our saddles. My hand shot up and I got off my wave. Then, to my horror, out popped the Princess’s head and shoulders from her coach and she waved right back at me! I suddenly became very busy checking the instruments on my bike as our O/C searched our faces for some explanation. I thought I was doomed! We powered off down the avenue and into history.
I waited for the backlash from my wave. Nothing happened! I had pulled it off after all and the Horourable Angus Ogilvy never inquired who that impudent motor cop was who sneaked a “Last Wave to a Princess.”
Photos: Top: Clif Chapman took the photo on May 24, 2005. The officer in the photo is part of the royal escort that made sure Queen Elizabeth travelled safely while in Edmonton for Alberta's centennial celebrations. Bottom: Clif Chapman and his Harley police motorcycle circa 1967.