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Nostalgia: The Queen visits Chester Zoo in 2012

As Queen Elizabeth becomes Britain's longest serving monarch we look back at her visit to Chester Zoo in 2012

On Wednesday, September 9, 2015 Her Majesty The Queen will become Britain's longest reigning monarch, breaking the record held for more than a century by her great great grandmother Queen Victoria.

We look back at her visit to Chester Zoo in the May of her diamond jubilee year.

Jo Henwood reported from the event:

Her Majesty the Queen looked happy and glorious throughout her first ever visit to Chester Zoo on Thursday, May 17.

Dressed in a stunning coral dress and coat, designed by Stewart Parvin, with matching hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan, the 86-year-old monarch had a smile on her face throughout the 45-minute tour of the Upton attraction, which included opening a new Diamond Jubilee Quarter, a visit to the rhino enclosure and a trip on the Union Jack-clad monorail.

Crowds had gathered in the rain at the zoo entrance since 7am in the hope of catching a glimpse of the monarch as she arrived with the Duke of Edinburgh from Ellesmere Port’s National Waterways Museum, where they stayed aboard luxury yacht Leander .

Claire Carroll, from Upton, had been there since 8.15am to try and catch a glimpse of her son Jack, who had been invited to sing for the Queen with his choir from Upton Heath Primary School.

pch pfl The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visit Chester Zoo as part of the Jubilee tour of the UK. Pictured here; The Queen took the time to listen to the school choir from Upton Heath Primary, Chester at the Rhino enclosure.(Image: Ian Cooper)

Once in a lifetime

Leanne Uttley, of Penyffordd, a pupil at Castell Alun School in Hope, was there for her ‘once in a lifetime chance’ to see the Queen, while royalist Heather James, who lined the streets of The Mall last year to watch the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, was in a prime position outside the entrance to see the Queen.

Lining the route into the zoo were representatives and families from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Leanne Fretwell, whose husband Staff Sergeant Sam Fretwell is currently serving in Afghanistan, said: “It’s very important for all the wives and families to be here. It’s an acknowledgement of all that our husbands are doing.”

George Dakin, from disability charity DIAL House, had made the Queen a heart of gold which he hoped to hand to her, although there was no royal walkabout outside the zoo.

The crowds were entertained during their wait by Theatre in the Quarter’s Matt Baker leading almost 200 singers and schoolchildren in a performance of his original anthem Across the World . Playing accordion, he also led a sing-along of old favourites including Singing in the Rain .

The royal couple arrived at 10.20am in a Bentley and were introduced to invited dignitaries.

Diamond Jubilee Quarter

The Queen then officially opened the zoo’s new gates to the Diamond Jubilee Quarter before heading inside for a tour by monorail.

Zoo director general Dr Mark Pilgrim and chairman of trustees professor Peter Wheeler accompanied the Queen in the first carriage, and managing director Barbara Smith and Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals, travelled with Prince Phillip in the second carriage during the tour of the zoo.

Representatives from schools and community groups lined the route to wave to the Queen during the 18-minute journey.

Dr Pilgrim said: “The Queen was very concerned that people had not got wet waiting for her.”

At the zoo’s rhino enclosure the Queen met Semu Pallangyo, who is responsible for the daily management of the zoo’s black rhino conservation programme at the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary in Tanzania. He spoke of the difficulty in dealing with poachers.

pch pfl The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visit Chester Zoo as part of the Jubilee tour of the UK. Pictured here; The Queen talks to Semu Pallangyo who is responsible for daily management of the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, Tanzania.(Image: Ian Cooper)

Dr Pilgrim added: “The Queen was very interested in the work we do with black rhinos and was particularly keen to hear that they all have different personalities – a bit like horses. Some are friendly, some are more timid.”

On entering the rhino house, the Queen asked Dr Pilgrim if the animals were lying in the hay to keep warm. She also asked if the two rhinos were related.

“I told Her Majesty that they weren’t and explained how difficult it has been to breed rhinos. She was pleased to hear that one of them, Kitani, is pregnant.”

Curator of mammals Tim Rowlands talked with Prince Philip about his last visit to the zoo in 1972.

He said: “We looked at some of the old photographs, including one of him with a pygmy hippo, at the time. As a long-term patron of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), the duke has a lot of knowledge of zoos and was interested to hear about our breeding programmes.

“He asked questions about how the animals acclimatise to the weather in the north of England.”

On leaving the zoo the Queen was presented with flowers by Dr Pilgrim’s nine-year-old daughter Ruby, a pupil of Ysgol Derwenfa in Leeswood, near Mold, and Olivia Mayers, also nine, a pupil at J H Godwin Primary School in Blacon.

pch pfl The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visit Chester Zoo as part of the Jubilee tour of the UK. Pictured here; Ruby Pilgrim aged 9 from Ysgol Derwenfa in Leeswood, Mold hands over flowers to the Queen with her father Dr Mark Pilgrim (left) and The Duke watching on.(Image: Ian Cooper)

Speaking afterwards Ruby said: “She asked me if I liked ponies and if I got to see the zoo animals often. It was very exciting.”

Olivia added: “It felt like an extremely good experience. She said ‘thank you’ and I curtsied.”

The new Diamond Jubilee Quarter – a £2m gateway to conservation – means that for the first time in the zoo’s 80-year history, the main entrance will be a public space with a new retail complex and coffee shop.

The Queen and Prince Philip were in the North West for two days during the Diamond Jubilee tour of the UK. Following their visit to Chester Zoo the royal couple headed to Orford Jubilee Park in Warrington and Albert Dock in Liverpool.

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