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article imageQueen Elizabeth makes nostalgic 'homecoming' to Malta

By Robin Millard (AFP)     Nov 26, 2015 in World

Queen Elizabeth II arrived in a rainswept Malta on Thursday for a memory-evoking state visit to the Mediterranean island where she lived as a carefree princess in the early 1950s.

The 89-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip, 94, were given a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace after returning to the only place outside Britain she has ever called home.

Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth, is paying a three-day state visit to Malta to coincide with the organisation's biennial summit, but will also revisit old haunts from her time as the newlywed wife of a prominent young naval officer.

The royal couple lived in Malta between 1949 and 1951 when Prince Philip was stationed on the island. The then-princess Elizabeth wiled away her days dancing, shopping and relaxing, enjoying the freedom she soon lost in 1952 on inheriting the burdens of state.

- 'She was our queen' -

After touching down in rainy and blustery conditions, the queen and Prince Philip were met by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose daughters gave her flowers.

Michelle Muscat  wife of Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat  welcomes Queen Elizabeth II (C) ...
Michelle Muscat, wife of Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, welcomes Queen Elizabeth II (C) and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on November 26, 2015
Matthew Mirabelli, AFP

The royal couple were driven to the Maltese president's majestic San Anton Palace in a 1950s Austin Princess with leather seats and walnut wood interiors -- a throwback to the days when they used to tootle around the narrow streets.

In Attard in the middle of the island, around 100 well-wishers gathered outside the palace gates to see the queen, bracing themselves against the rain and wind that blew at the flags and palm trees outside.

They applauded politely and waved as the monarch, wearing a blue, green and lilac tweed coat with a matching hat, drove past.

"When I was a kid, she was our queen," said Lina Calleta, in her 60s.

"I remember being around 10 years old and seeing the queen," said Dorothy Bonello, a 62-year-old nurse. "I still feel 10 years old, I'm more than excited. She's like a relative coming to see us."

Twelve-year-old Sam Maniscalco said: "I think it might be the last time she's going to come. I always wanted to see her in person, it's an opportunity you can't miss. I didn't know she was going to be that old."

- Flags out in Valletta -

The ceremonial welcome was to have been in the capital Valletta, but was switched to the presidential palace due to the weather.

Queen Elizabeth II (L) reviews a Guard of Honor after her arrival in Malta for a three-day visit  on...
Queen Elizabeth II (L) reviews a Guard of Honor after her arrival in Malta for a three-day visit, on November 26, 2015
Alberto Pizzoli, AFP

British and Maltese flags lined the city's main Republic Street -- formerly Kingsway until the island dropped the monarchy in 1974. It is lined with red British telephone and post boxes.

"My grandparents used to see her, holding hands with the prince, rushing to meet him when he got off work," said Mario Vella, 52, a waiter at the Regina Cafe on what is still popularly known as Queen's Square.

The pair have returned several times over the years, most recently in 2007 to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary.

They were accompanied this time by their eldest son and heir to the throne Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, whose umbrella got stuck in the plane door. She battled to free it before joining Charles on the apron.

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca threw a lavish party at the San Anton Palace, with special guests from the queen's past invited, including clarinettist Freddie Mizzi, who used to play in the band at the Phoenicia Hotel where the young princess regularly danced.

The three-day visit will take the royal couple to places close to the hearts of the naval prince and the horse-loving monarch: Valletta's historic harbour and the island's racecourse.

On Friday, Queen Elizabeth is expected to address the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth summit for what might be the last time, depending on where future biennial gatherings are held.

It is understood that she will no longer undertake long-haul travel to attend the summits.

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