FEW people will have met Queen Elizabeth as many times as Dickie Bird...
The legendary cricket umpire struck up a unique bond with Her Majesty after their first meeting at a test match at Trent Bridge in 1977 - the year of the silver jubilee.
Dickie recalls the day well: “I was on umpiring duties that day and the Queen told me that she had been so looking forward to meeting me.
“She smiled at me with that wonderful, warm smile of hers and said ‘you’re quite a character, aren’t you, Dickie’.
“She also told me that her mother was also big fan of mine as well.
“It was so humbling to hear her talk about me with such affection.”
Since that day, the pair kept in regular touch by letter - the last exchange taking place less than a fortnight ago - and Dickie went on to meet her 28 times down the years.
At her personal request, he was asked to umpire cricket matches that raised money for one of the Queen’s favourite charities which supported injured jockies.
“But the proudest, happiest day of my life was when I was invited to Buckingham Palace for a private lunch with Her Majesty,” he recalled this week.
“I can remember the day I got the invite. I was sitting at home on a dreary, November day and my phone rang and this posh voice introduced themselves as being from the Queen’s private office.
“A voice on the other end of the line said ‘you have been commanded by the Queen to check your availability to have lunch with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace’.
“I replied that even if I had had already eaten lunch that day, I would still walk down to Buckingham Palace for the honour of having lunch with her.”
When the proud day finally came, Dickie says he was certainly not disappointed.
“I spent the day with the Queen and we talked about all kinds of things - especially horse racing and cricket. She loved her sport and was always very knowledgeable.
“She took me around Buckingham Palace on a personal tour and when I left at 5pm, I can honestly say I felt like the happiest, proudest man alive. It was such an honour.”
He admits that while time spent with the Queen counted among the happiest days of his life, news of her death last Thursday instantly became one of the saddest.
“I slumped in my chair and there were tears in my eyes when the news was announced. It was a very sad day.
“I will miss her presence in the world. There’ll never be anyone quite like her.”