His interaction with Queen Elizabeth II was only a few seconds long, but that’s all Robertson Hollingsworth needed to make a memory that’ll last a lifetime.
As the queen was readying to leave Canada on July 6, 2010, following a nine-day tour of the nation — her last visit to Canada — she was greeted by a nine-year-old Hollingsworth who was standing near her plane at Toronto Pearson International Airport, holding a bouquet of flowers.
The meeting was quick: “I remember her coming up (and) asking if the flowers were for her. So I bowed and said ‘Yes, they are,’ and handed them to her,” a now 21-year-old Hollingsworth told Global News on Tuesday at his Scarborough, Ont., home.
That moment was just over 12 years ago, but with the death of the 96-year-old queen last Thursday, Hollingsworth is starting to understand just how historically significant that brief interaction was.
“The fact that I was one of the last people to see her on Canadian soil is pretty big,” he said.
“It was definitely surreal to find out that she had passed, and that was honestly one of the first things I thought of — was that I was able to meet her.”
Elizabeth’s death last Thursday has been met with a wave of grief across the globe. Sitting on the throne for 70 years, she was the longest-reigning monarch in British history, and is the only British monarch many people have known in their lifetimes.
The queen has been succeeded by her son, King Charles III, who has promised to follow her example of “selfless duty” during his reign. Charles is now the head of state, not only in the United Kingdom and Canada, but also in 13 other countries including New Zealand, Jamaica and Australia.
While many around the U.K. and world offer well wishes to Charles, they are taking the time to pay their respects and share stories of the queen, whose state funeral will be held this coming Monday.
A lot of those tributes are coming in from Canada, from elected officials like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said on Sept. 8 he had “trouble believing that my last sit down with her was my last,” to everyday Canadians like Hollingsworth who were lucky enough to meet the queen.
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During her reign, the queen visited Canada 22 times and referred to it as her home away from home. While she met many Canadians during her time in the nation, it was Hollingsworth who was among the last to have an interaction with her in what would be the queen’s last visit to Canada.
Just before Hollingsworth met the queen on July 6, 2010, his parents got a call from a family friend involved in the queen’s visit to see if they had any children who would be willing to present the monarch with flowers before she left Canada.
They had just come back from a friend’s wedding in Halifax and his parents asked him if he would do it. It took some convincing, but he eventually agreed, said his mother Deborah Cull-Hollingsworth.
“He said he would do it, but we had to give him a Lego Indiana Jones set for it — that was the bribe,” she said.
“We quickly got him dressed into what he was wearing … looking proper to meet the queen, and we rushed out to the airport.”
It was exceptionally hot that day at Pearson, they said. A tired Hollingsworth waited alongside prominent officials like then-Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, whose wife helped shade him from the hot sun.
He was told he would have to bow when he met the queen, he said, adding he had the option of greeting her with the words “your majesty,” which he said he did say. After waiting for what felt like “awhile,” the queen came.
“(It was) maybe a couple of seconds. I was towards the end, and I guess she was kind of in a rush to get going, but it was really no longer than me handing her the flowers and she kind of moved on to the next person in line,” he said.
“I don’t know if at the time I was as aware of how big of a deal it was as I am now. It was kind of just something that I had to do that day that I had gotten over with.”
Cull-Hollingsworth holds the pictures from that day close.
“I have a picture on my phone, so whenever anything really important happened regarding the queen, I’d be posting on Facebook that my son met the queen and it was pretty special,” she said.
When news broke the queen had died, both started to process what the world would be like without her.
“It was crazy to think that it had all actually happened … it was definitely strange to kind of take it all in,” Hollingsworth said.
“She’s been the queen all of my life and it’s just really a weird world without her. I remember jokingly saying, ‘But I don’t want anybody else on my money. I want only the queen on my money.’ It was a pretty emotional day,” Cull-Hollingsworth said.
Although their moment together was brief, Hollingsworth said he will remember the queen as being “really nice.”
“It’s definitely something that I’ll look back on in the future as what I see it as now is a big thing.”