Top: The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers at a service of the Chapel Royal in Scotland in August 2022. Above: The Chalmers family. Right: His son, broadcaster JJ Chalmers pictured with his friend, Prince Harry.
By Helen Silvis
The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and recently retired member of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, shares a reflection on his memories of meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, including a handwritten letter she wrote remarking on his son JJ Chalmers’ “fantastic” performance on Strictly Come Dancing.
“Meetings with Her Majesty always led to pleasant and easy conversations,” the former minister of Renton Parish Church told The Democrat.
He added: “In her company at a reception or at a garden party she skillfully worked the room, spending time with as many people as she could. There was always a smile and most often a laugh, she was genuine in her admiration of people who had achieved remarkable things and it gave her enormous pride when she was able to recognise and celebrate those achievements.
“At Balmoral the Royal Family were at their most relaxed and most informal. The Queen probably had her softest spot for the Scottish Highlands and for the Balmoral Estate. There, she had the freedom to enjoy the great outdoors and to share her love of everything that was unspoilt about the landscape and the wildlife.
“Nothing was more relaxed and enjoyed than a Saturday evening barbecue at one of the lodges on the estate. The Queen would drive and one of her passengers would always be the minister who would be preaching the next morning at Crathie Kirk.
“The ‘in car’ conversations would be wide ranging, pastoral and insightful – no one who ever enjoyed this privilege could forget that in the presence of the Monarch you were being treated as an equal.
“Faithful to the Kirk and reflective in her own faith, the Queen took seriously the conversations she had with her chaplains. In my own case, she followed the journey of our son when he was recovering from the injuries he sustained in Afghanistan. When she realised that JJ was none other than the star that she had been watching on Strictly Come Dancing, she penned a handwritten letter reflecting on how “fantastically” he had danced and how glad she was that “his life had changed so much”.
“I spent many hours over several visits with Her Majesty and I never had as much as a moment when I did not feel relaxed in her company. We talked about the state of the Church, we talked about blood stock and horse racing and we talked about our children and family life. She was always well briefed, she knew her guests and she enjoyed entertaining them, and she always asked about their interests and the challenges they were facing in life.
“Towards the end of a meal in the small dining room she delighted in feeding the corgis and the corgis under the table and you knew you had arrived when you were allowed to join in.”
The late Queen Elizabeth II and JJ Chalmers in action as a broadcaster, with the Royal Marines and on the floor in Strictly Come Dancing. Pictures by BILL HEANEY