The 94-year-old monarch was joined by her grandson Prince William at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, where the pair spoke to those involved in identifying the nerve agent following the Novichok incident in Salisbury two years ago. The visit to the Porton Down laboratory, where they officially opened its new Energetic Analysis Centre, was the first time Her Majesty had ventured from her royal residences and so-called ‘HMS Bubble’ since the start of the pandemic. Most of the engagement was carried out outside or almost outside, such as in an open hanger or marquee.
However, the Queen was accused of “letting Britain down” by not wearing a face mask by journalist Benjamin Butterworth on the radio, and by others on social media.
Mr Butterworth argued it would have set a good example and “shown us all how to look after each other” if the Queen had donned a face mask.
Speaking to Dan Wootton on talkRADIO, he said: “The truth is, not only did this put the Queen at risk, but the Queen let Britain down today when she failed to wear a mask because she could have shown us all how to look after each other.”
However, the Palace insisted the decision was made after the Queen’s medical team was consulted.
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Queen Elizabeth II was criticised for not wearing a mask at her first royal engagement in months
The Queen visited a laboratory that identified Novichok in Salisbury in 2018
What’s more, all 48 people she may have come into contact with had tested negative for COVID-19 in the 24 hours before and the laboratory took heightened safety precautions ahead of her visit.
Pod Save the Queen is hosted by Ann Gripper and features Daily Mirror royal editor Russell Myers.
Ms Gripper added there is an important reason why the Queen may have decided not to wear a mask: that being visually present is a crucial part of her role.
The Queen herself is quoted to have said: “I have to be seen to be believed,” referencing the fact the most common criticism of the Royal Family is that they do little and that to stay relevant they have to be seen out and about.
The Queen grinning as she opened a plaque with William
Ms Gripper argued that a picture of the Queen with her face and her smile makes much more of an impact than one in a mask, especially for her first event back.
In this way, Her Majesty put duty first, as she always has done, to show the country she is well and truly back at work.
Ms Gripper even predicted the Queen will wear a mask at her next royal engagement, but not as a reaction to the backlash, but because it will have been part of the plan all along.
The podcast host said: “I have a theory, I think that this was the first engagement, this was her first time out and about, she was going to a scientific place where they could realistically check everybody she was going to meet so it was practical.
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The Queen looking beautiful in pink during her first engagement since lockdown
“But it goes back to that thing of ‘you have to be seen to be believed’, and the picture of the Queen out and about with her face, with her smile, is much more present and gives a very different message.
“And I totally get people saying ‘she should have worn a mask, that’s a really important message to give’, I fully understand that and I think that the next event we see her at, I suspect that we will see her in a mask.
“But, for me, it wouldn’t be a reaction to people saying she should have worn a mask this time, it’s because she has been seen, she has presented herself to the country.
“And it was quite cheery seeing her, she was all jolly!”
Mr Myers agreed with this theory, comparing it to how royals often use see-through umbrellas so they can still be seen in the rain.
He also emphasised it was the Queen’s first royal engagement outside a royal residence since March.
She took part in a “mini Trooping the Colour” at Windsor Castle and knighted Sir Tom Moore, but these were both in the confines of her country home.
He added: “It was quite a jolly event, she even threw in a joke about signing the visitors’ book to prove they have been there.
“So it was quite light-hearted, although talking about serious subjects, and maybe there will be other opportunities to see her out and about wearing a mask inside if she does something at a hospital or a research and development centre like William.”
Mr Myers said he essentially disagreed with those saying the Queen should have worn a mask, arguing that it was outside and there are no government guidelines to say people should wear one if they meet people outside.
Even when they were in the hanger, it was huge and one side was up the whole time, and the marquee had three sides up, he added.
He also made the point that the royals have not been averse to wearing one ‒ Charles and Camilla and William and Kate have been wearing them for their royal engagements.
He concluded: “No one is going to take any undue risks with the Queen.”
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