Caymanians have always relished a royal visit.
When dashing young naval officer Prince Charles touched down on the islands in 1973, a smitten reporter swooned about his “sun-streaked hair” and “brilliant blue eyes”. When Queen Elizabeth II herself dropped in for a 24-hour visit in 1983, it was truly a historic moment. Crowds lined the streets waving flags and clutching cameras while patiently waiting to snap a photo of the queen in her black Rolls-Royce automobile.
The imminent return of Prince Charles to the Cayman Islands (this time, accompanied by wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall) is the latest chapter in a series of royal visits that date back to the 1960s, when Mary, Princess Royal, first graced these islands with her presence.
In this special report, we look back in Cayman’s history on royal visits that have occurred over the years.
Mary, Princess Royal – 1960
The first British Royal to visit the Cayman Islands was Mary, Princess Royal, on March 22, 1960.
Princess Mary was the third child and only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary.
Princess Mary came to the island on the Royal Yacht Britannia, according to Lee Ebanks’s book ‘Lest it be Lost’.
In anticipation of her arrival, residents whipped the island into tip-top shape, with Administrator Alan Hillard Donald organising a massive clean-up campaign.
A gala party was arranged aboard the royal yacht Britannia. When Princess Mary came ashore, she was presented with a sharkskin purse on behalf the people of Cayman.
It was arranged for her to meet the people beside the Town Hall in George Town, where she planted a tree. The little plot of land surrounding the tree came to be known as The Princess Royal Park. It later became the site of the current Legislative Assembly building.
Prince Philip – 1962
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II since 1947, was the second member of the royal family to visit Cayman. He arrived on a Royal Air Force plane, which landed at the Owen Roberts Airfield, and stayed from April 3-5, 1962, according to ‘Lest it be Lost’.
Prince Philip lodged at the recently completed Government House on Seven Mile Beach.
A grand reception was held at the Galleon Beach Hotel. There was also a public gathering in Princess Royal Park to meet the prince.
Prince Philip has accompanied the queen on many trips and royal tours.
Prince Charles – 1973
In July 1973, Prince Charles became the third member of the royal family to visit Cayman.
Formally known as the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles’s visit generated much enthusiasm, although officially he was acting in the capacity of an officer aboard HMS Minerva.
Caymanians showed their zeal by flying Union Jack flags above cars and homes, and turning out by the hundreds to get a glimpse of the young prince, who was 24 at the time.
In an article that appeared on July 19, 1973, Caymanian Weekly staff writer Diane Evans says she “melted” when the prince asked, “How do you do?” and said he was pleased to meet her, during an event at the Government House, hosted by Governor Kenneth Roy Crook.
She said Charles was everything a prince should be: “much more handsome than his photographs, with sun-streaked hair, deep tan, brilliant blue eyes and even, white teeth. His handshake is firm and decisive, and his manner extremely forthright and refreshingly candid.”
Local hotel and restaurant pioneer Suzy Bergstrom (later Soto) was delighted to meet the young prince, who she said was quite a good calypso dancer.
In her book ‘Cookin’ and Laughin’ in the Cayman Islands’, she describes her acquaintanceship with the young prince and, in preparation for his arrival at the Tortuga Club, scouring Grand Cayman for a special coffee pot.
Arriving half an hour late to greet the prince – and without having managed to obtain a coffee pot – she told him that, quite frankly, she’d spent several frantic hours searching for a coffee pot, only to be told the only one available for sale would cost 500 pounds and, prince or no prince, she could not afford it.
He told her not to worry – he did not drink coffee.
That evening, she had the privilege of being the prince’s dance partner, swaying to the beat of calypso music played by the Barefoot Man at the Holiday Inn Hotel.
“He’s a very good calypso dancer,” Soto told the Cayman Compass last week. “He had a great sense of dry humour and a very quick wit. He was quite sincere amid all the stress of his honoured position.”
He told her he enjoyed sketching and painting, and loved to scuba dive. His entourage, she said, consisted of 26 people.
Upon learning that there were two weekly newspapers in Cayman, both going to press on the same day, the prince told the Caymanian Weekly that such a state of affairs was highly unimaginative, ridiculous, and a disservice to the community. (The next year, in 1974, the Cayman Compass and Caymanian Weekly would merge to become the Caymanian Compass.)
When told Cayman had no television, Prince Charles is quoted in the weekly paper as saying that he was glad, because watching it so much from age 15 had turned his eyes “square”. And when asked if Cayman’s mosquitoes were a problem to him, his answer was he got the only one that landed on him.
An exceptionally good swimmer and waterskier, Prince Charles snorkelled in George Town harbour and sailed solo in a boat belonging to Clive Tricker, the son of Derrick Tricker, Cayman’s head of criminal investigations at the time.
On his visit to North Side, Prince Charles met 20-month-old Shawnee Ebanks, who had been born on the prince’s 23rd birthday – Nov. 14, 1971.
Henry Bush, turtle butcher and taxi driver, presented Prince Charles with a sea coral fan light at the Holiday Inn during a Cayman Friends Society dinner and dance. At the Tortuga Club, Governor Crook presented the prince with a set of cuff links made from the islands’ gold coins.
Queen Elizabeth II – 1983 and 1994
For well over 300 years of British rule, the tiny colony of Cayman had yearned for a visit from the British monarch.
This dream was fulfilled during a most extraordinary moment in local history, when Queen Elizabeth II set foot on Cayman’s soil on Feb. 16, 1983 for just one day.
A special Rolls-Royce was brought in by the M.V. Kirk Express for the queen to make her tours. Features of the car included flag staffs, fluorescent lighting, television, refrigerator, bar and burled-walnut interior. Sergeant Buel Ebanks was the driver.
The queen and Prince Philip arrived at Owen Roberts International Airport on board a VC10 aircraft. Elected officials and top senior civil servants welcomed the royal couple as they exited the aircraft.
A welcoming crowd, estimated at 5,000, turned out for the arrival – more than one-quarter of the islands’ population. Schoolchildren greeted the couple with flags, flowers and applause. During her tour of the island, Queen Elizabeth got a glimpse of the simpler side of Cayman as she passed through each district and met Caymanians from all walks of life.
In West Bay, she was waved at by schoolchildren and residents on her way to Post Time, a 46-foot luxury sport fishing yacht which took her from Morgan’s Harbour to Cayman Kai.
It was a historic moment for Annie Huldah Bodden, a member of the Legislative Assembly, who told the queen that the people of Cayman do not want to have their status as a British colony changed – “ever, ever, ever”.
On her tour of Bodden Town, the queen immersed herself in the cultural heritage of the Caymanian people. A traditional Caymanian house of wattle and daub was constructed in front of the Town Hall in Bodden Town, for her to see how people lived in the past.
Two middle school students presented the queen and prince with handmade gifts – a straw bag made in the shape of Grand Cayman for the queen and a straw hat with ‘Cayman Islands’ painted on the brim for the prince.
While in North Side, the queen opened the five-mile-long North Side/East End road – named Queen’s Highway. The new road linked the north and east coasts of Grand Cayman for the first time.
Queen Elizabeth also officially opened The Pines Retirement Home.
In February 1994, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip returned to Cayman, on a Royal Air Force jet.
In a historic first for Cayman, the queen knighted longtime Caymanian public servant Sir Vassel Johnson.
Sir Vassel had served as Cayman’s financial secretary from 1965 to 1982, then as an Executive Council member from 1984 to 1988. He is considered as a driving force in creating and shaping Cayman’s financial services industry.
During this second visit, the queen also officially opened the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, off Frank Sound Road. Her son Prince Charles is scheduled to visit the park on his visit this week.
Governor Michael Gore, in a report to the British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd on the queen’s 1994 visit, stated, “It was a most happy occasion; the programme went like clockwork and it was clear that both The Queen and The Duke enjoyed visiting one of the remaining Dependent Territories where everything works and where they were truly welcome.”
During her record 67-year reign. Elizabeth II has become the most-travelled British monarch.
Princess Alexandra – 1988
In October 1988, the queen’s cousin Princess Alexandra became the first member of the royal family to visit Cayman Brac.
During the Grand Cayman portion of her tour, she visited North Side to witness a cycling race for the ‘Princess Alexandra Trophy’.
The princess laid the cornerstone for the headquarters building for the local committee of the British Red Cross, located on Huldah Avenue. She also opened the terminal at the Brac’s Gerrard-Smith Airport, now known as the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport, and unveiled a plaque at the fire station at Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts airport.
Prince Andrew – 2000
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, visited Cayman from March 18-20, 2000.
He attended a reception at Pedro St. James and called in on the residents of The Pines Retirement Home.
He visited the Turtle Farm and Government House, and also travelled to the Brac for a reception at the Aston Rutty Civic Centre and a tour of Faith Hospital.
His royal party toured the North Sound on the Cayman Protector police boat.
Prince Edward – 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2016
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest of the queen’s four children, has visited Cayman five times, according to the Cayman Islands National Archives.
The prince has been patron of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman since 2003.
He has visited the territory in May 2003, November 2004, February 2007, January 2009 and March 2016.
The prince unveiled and dedicated the Wall of History in Celebration Park during Cayman’s Quincentennial in 2003.
In 2007, the prince did a walking tour of East End and discovered local culture on Fiddlers Way. Edney McLean showed the prince wood carvings, including boats, plaques and other artworks. He visited the home of Isaac and Shirley Jackson and viewed prints of damage from hurricane Ivan.
In January 2009, he visited to inspect damage from Hurricane Paloma on Cayman Brac.
In 2016, the prince and wife Sophie stopped briefly in Grand Cayman before boarding a Cayman Airways Express jet to Little Cayman, where the couple attended a private event at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute.
The only sibling of Prince Charles not to have visited the Cayman Islands is Anne, Princess Royal, the only daughter of the queen and Prince Philip.