Queen Elizabeth II “was a beacon of Czech-British relations”, says former ambassador to UK

Queen Elizabeth II in 1996

Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away on Thursday, is fondly remembered by many Czechs. Not least thanks to her visit to the country in March 1996, when she met with the then president Václav Havel and chatted with locals on Charles Bridge. One of those who met with the monarch several times during his career is the former Czech ambassador to the UK Michael Žantovský. 

Michael Žantovský | Photo: Adam Kebrt,  Český rozhlas

“I met her for the first time in March 1990 when I came to London with Václav Havel, whom she invited for lunch. She impressed me already then as a very likeable and very kind human being.

“In our subsequent meetings, when she came to Prague in 1996 and later when I served in London as ambassador, she only reinforced that impression in me. I admired her enormously.”

How important do you think the visit of the Queen to Czechia was for Czechs and for relations between the two countries? I understand that the queen would only do a limited amount of state visits per year, so I guess it was quite rare?

“Of course. And it was a reflection, I think, of the high esteem in which she held Václav Havel who impressed her enormously during their first meeting.

“Actually, 20 years later, when I handed to her my credentials as ambassador, she remembered in verbatim the details of that meeting and we recalled it together. That is an amazing feat considering how many visitors and heads of state she saw in the meantime.

“I think that she was a beacon of Czech-British relations. I hope that her successor will continue in the same vein.”

Photo: Mierny Otto  Ballon,  ČTK

Indeed, you said that she was one of the most professional heads of state you ever met. Recalling your role as ambassador to the UK, you said in the past that she was really good at making people feel comfortable when meeting her on official business, is that right?

“That’s right and more than that, I said that she was the most professional royal I have ever met in my life. And I did meet a few of them in my public and diplomatic career.

Photo: News Pictures / Royalfoto / ČTK

“She never got a name wrong. She never got a date wrong. She never got a country wrong in her meetings with the 180 or so ambassadors in London and their spouses, which she organised several times a year.

“She got everything right, standing for 90 minutes. And she was 90 then. Few 50 year olds could do the same thing. She was amazing.”

You met with King Charles III several times during your career, back when he was still the Prince of Wales. Do you know how he feels about the Czech Republic?

“Yes, and I think that that gives us confidence that the relationship between the royal family and our country will continue to be excellent.

“I first met him as the Prince of Wales, when he came to visit this country with Princess Diana in 1991 and I accompanied him to Prague as ambassador when he visited in 2010. I also met him a number of times in between.

King Charles III | Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth,  ČTK/AP

“I remember not only his personal relationship with Václav Havel. He came to the memorial evening in London after Havel died that we organised. This was an honour he rarely paid to such events.

“He helped with the restoration of the Prague Castle gardens together with Václav Havel.

“He was, and still is, one of the patrons of English College Prague – the excellent high school that he started together with Václav Havel – so he is immersed in Czech life and I hope that he will continue to stay that way.”