26 October 1965 was an important day for The Beatles: an appointment at Buckingham Palace to collect their MBEs from the Queen.
Although we didn’t believe in the Royal Family, you can’t help being impressed when you’re in the palace, when you know you’re standing in front of the Queen. It was like in a dream. It was beautiful. People were playing music, I was looking at the ceiling – not bad the ceiling. It was historical. It was like being in a museum.
They arrived at the palace in John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce, watched by a crowd of 4,000 fans who were held back by police. Some fans climbed gates and lamp posts to get a better view.
Some equerry to the Queen, a Guards officer, took us to one side and showed us what we had to do: ‘Approach Her Majesty like this and never turn your back on her, and don’t talk to her unless she talks to you.’ All of those things. For four Liverpool lads it was, ‘Wow, hey man!’ It was quite funny. But she was sweet. I think she seemed a bit mumsy to us because we were young boys and she was a bit older.
The Beatles were taken to the Great Throne Room in time for the 11am ceremony. The Lord Chamberlain, Lord Cobbold, read out The Beatles’ names individually, at which they stepped forward and bowed. The Queen then shook their hands, spoke to them, and pinned the medals to their jacket lapels. They then stepped back into line and bowed again.
There was this Guardsman telling us how to much, how many steps, and how to curtsey when you met the Queen. Left foot forward. Every time he was reading out the names and he got to Ringo Starr he kept cracking up. We knew in our hearts she was just some woman, yet we were going through with it. We’d agreed to it.
There were 189 people receiving awards during the investiture, including six who were knighted.
The Queen was great. Obviously I’m a big Queen fan now. It was obvious she was doing her best to make everyone feel relaxed and not nervous. When she gave me my medal, she said, ‘It’s a pleasure to present you with this,’ and I said, ‘Thank you.’
John Lennon later claimed that the group had smoked marijuana in the palace toilets before the investiture.
To start with, we wanted to laugh. But when it happens to you, when you are being decorated, you don’t laugh any more. We, however, were giggling like crazy because we had just smoked a joint in the loos of Buckingham Palace; we were so nervous. We had nothing to say. The Queen was planted on a big thing. She said something like ‘ooh, ah, blah, blah’ we didn’t quite understand. She’s much nicer than she is in the photos.
Although the tale was widely believed for many years, it was later debunked by George Harrison.
We never smoked marijuana at the investiture. What happened was we were waiting to go through, standing in an enormous line with hundreds of people, and we were so nervous that we went to the toilet. And in there we smoked a cigarette – we were all smokers in those days.
Years later, I’m sure John was thinking back and remembering, ‘Oh yes, we went in the toilet and smoked,’ and it turned into a reefer. Because what could be the worst thing you could do before you meet the Queen? Smoke a reefer! But we never did.
The event naturally received much attention from the media, with extensive newsreel, television and radio coverage. To help satisfy demand, after leaving the palace The Beatles held a press conference in the downstairs bar of the Savile Theatre.
Paul McCartney: The man shouted out George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. The word Starr was the cue for us to walk forward, left foot forward. It was just like a show.
Ringo Starr: Then we bowed and we walked towards the Queen, then we walked back and bowed, and then we walked away.
John Lennon: She was just like a mum to us. She was so warm and sweet. She really put us at ease. We were briefed beforehand by some big guardsman fellow, and every time he was reading out our names and he got to Ringo Starr, he kept cracking up.
Ringo Starr: He was a nice man.
Paul McCartney: We were the only people there. No one was trying to get up to us. They were all friendly.
John Lennon: We signed our autographs for all the people who were waiting to get their MBEs.
Paul McCartney: They were all nice, you know. But one fellw said, ‘I want it for my daughter, but I don’t know what she sees in yer!’
Q: George, why did you choose a navy blue Serge suit with shoulder tabs?
George Harrison: It was the only one that was pressed.
Q: What did you think about getting up so early for the investiture?
John Lennon: I Couldn’t believe that such a time existed.
Q: Did you use an alarm clock to get up on time?
John Lennon: No, I put my mother-in-law on.
Q: Were there any other members of the Royal Family present?
John Lennon: No, just a crowd of dukes.
Q: What did the Queen say to you?
John Lennon: She said to me, ‘Have you been working hard recently?’ And I couldn’t think what we’ve been doing, so I said, ‘No, we’ve been having a holiday,’ when actually we’ve been recording.
Paul McCartney: Then she said to me, ‘Have you been together long?’ and I said, ‘Yes, many years,’ and Ringo said, ‘Forty years,’ and she laughed.
George Harrison: She said, ‘It’s a pleasure giving it to you,’ but that’s what she said to everybody, and she put John’s on first.
John Lennon: I must have looked shattered.
Ringo Starr: She said, ‘Did you start it all?’ and I said, ‘No, they did,’ pointing to the other guys. ‘I joined last. I’m the little fellow.’