Bethany Bisaillon and her 700 pipe band members known as the Sons of Scotland have played at Balmoral Castle, the queen’s home in Scotland — the first time being in 2005. The second and final time was on Aug. 17 of this year, when 160 members went, and it all started with a letter in the mail.
“I had written to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to ask for permission to play there, and that’s her home in Edinburgh … and so I got permission in the mail. I was just delighted,” said Bisaillon.
“I never thought I would be in this position … it’s incredible … And that’s because I’m smart enough to ask. Always ask because you never, never know. You might get a yes. And wouldn’t that be wonderful?” she added.
Bisaillon said the queen met and talked with all of the people in the audience the first time they visited the castle and on Aug. 17 the queen welcomed them as well.
“She was great. She came to the back door and she saw me and she said, ‘Well, hello again.’ And she came down the stairs … and I curtsied and shook her hand, like seeing an old friend again,” said Bisaillon.
“She had her walking stick. She seemed fine. But I mean, if there was something more, certainly we didn’t know it. But she was very happy and she was wonderful and really pleased to see everybody. So that’s how we’re going to remember her,” she added.
Even after the performance, Bisaillon said she and her crew believed they’d be back next year, so she was shocked when she heard the news of the queen’s death.
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Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a symbol of stability in a turbulent era that saw the decline of the British empire and disarray in her own family, died on Sept. 8 after 70 years on the throne. She was 96.
The palace announced she died at Balmoral Castle, her summer residence in Scotland, where members of the Royal Family had rushed to her side after her health took a turn for the worse.
A link to the almost-vanished generation that fought the Second World War, she was the only monarch most Britons and citizens of the Commonwealth have ever known.
“The queen has been in our lives. All of our lives … I remember watching the wedding of Charles and Diana and being a little kid from Canada that grew up playing pipes,” Bisaillon said.
Among the band members who accompanied Bisaillon from Ottawa was Tony Clunis — a piper, who said he thought the queen was going to live forever.
“I was really shocked (at the news). I just thought she was going to live forever … I thought we’re going back next year and everything’s great … so I really didn’t see her death coming and I was kind in a denial,” said Clunis.
He said playing for the queen was the highlight of his performing career and it’s all thanks to Bisaillon.
“She’s the driver on all this. If it wasn’t for her, it never would have happened,” Clunis said.
He said it was an honour to play for someone who loves the pipes, adding that the queen loves the pipes even more than he does.
“She has pipes every day and pipe bands all over the place.”
Clunis said she was “pretty and sweet and (had) beautiful blue eyes.”
“It was really something to see her in person … I’m just sad that I won’t be able to do it again,” he added.
– with files from Global News’ Bryan Mullan and the Associated Press