The Malta Independent 22 February 2024, Thursday
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‘It was an emotional experience driving the Queen around for second time’ - Paul Mifsud

Tuesday, 1 December 2015, 10:32 Last update: about 9 years ago

“It was an honour, and a little emotional to drive Queen Elizabeth II for what was probably her last visit to Malta,” says Paul Mifsud, who acted as the Queen’s chauffeur during last week’s state visit.

Mr Mifsud, 49, has been employed as a mechanic and a driver with the Office of the President for the past twenty years. Ten years ago he had also had the privilege to drive the Queen during CHOGM 2005.

The Malta Independent interviewed Mr Mifsud yesterday at the San Anton Palace grounds, where he proudly displayed the two cars used for the state visit – two shiny black Austin Princess Vanden Plas limousines owned by the OPR.

One is a convertible with a manual gearbox, built in 1955. The second car is a hardtop with an automatic gearbox, built in 1960. Despite being more than 55 years old, the vehicles boast some features not found in the most modern of cars. “Both have power steering, an electric window between the front and back and power brakes. They even have electric jacks, which means that if the car has a punctured tyre you just press one of four buttons and a jack will be lowered near the affected wheel and lift the car up.” The cars have an aluminium body and a wooden frame. They also boast 4 Litre, six-cylinder engines and can carry up to seven passengers. “The one with the manual gearbox is trickier to drive when following mounted police, so the automatic is more suited to such occasions,” he says.

The convertible had not been used for the past five years but Mr Mifsud restored it to immaculate condition, doing most of the work himself and using original parts. Some of the parts had to be shipped from abroad, thanks to the help of Lieutenant Brian Gatt. He speaks passionately about the cars. “They are a big part of my life,” he says proudly. “I spent many hours working on them. I am a vintage car enthusiast and I love doing this kind of work. When you love your job you put much more effort into it.”

Driving QEII around in his beloved cars is the cherry on the cake for Mr Mifsud. “I think she appreciated the fact that we used the Princesses. The Queen likes vintage cars and used to ride similar vehicles when she lived in Malta as a young woman.”

So what is it like to be the Queen’s chauffeur? “It is obviously a great pleasure and I also felt a little emotional. The Queen is not your usual passenger.”

Mr Mifsud says this year’s state visit was more hectic than 2005 and he barely had a chance to speak to the Queen. “It was just a matter of saying hello when she was getting in and out of the car but it was nothing like the last CHOGM, when she had asked to meet the palace staff and gave us a small gift to thank us. Back then we had the honour of speaking to her and shaking her hand but this time round it was more hectic and her programme was busier.”

Mr Mifsud says he believes that the Queen recognised him from ten years ago. “I think she did. There are not that many Paul Mifsuds and I have not changed much since 2005.”

He says that, during the job, his full attention had to be on the road and the police escort. “I had to be completely focused on my job. It goes through your mind that if something goes wrong the blame will fall on you. But on the whole everything went well.”

Mr Mifsud says the heightened security situation and the talk of possible threats worried him and his relatives. After all he was right there in the middle of the action. “Family members asked me to be extra careful but I thought that this was something that needed to be done and I wanted to do the job to the best of my ability. Yes, you get scared but you have to beat that fear. ”

While the cars lack any security features, such as bulletproof windows or a phenomenal speed, the heavy police escort, including a helicopter circling overheard made up for these shortfalls, Mr Mifsud says.

The Queen’s visit to Malta is widely regarded to have been the last for the 89-year-old Monarch. “I heard her say that this would be her last time in Malta. At least I can say I had the honour to be her driver on her last visit.”

Mr Mifsud was a bit disappointed when the bad weather forced a change of programme. “Originally we were meant to use both cars to take the Royals and the President from Valletta to San Anton but the St George’s Square ceremony was cancelled. We did manage to use both cars to take the Queen back to the airport. I drove the Queen and the President while my colleague, Tyron, drove Prince Philip and Mr Preca in the second car.” The frequent rain showers also meant that he had to wash the cars several times, especially while waiting for the Queen’s plane to land on Thursday.

Despite having driven countless dignitaries throughout his 20-year career, Mr Mifsud says driving the Queen in 2005 and 2015 will likely remain his most memorable experiences. 

In the meantime it is also pertinent to point out that the Queen was also chauffeured by a driver from the Armed Forces of Malta on other engagements. The AFM Sergeant, who was handpicked for the job after seven months of training, drove Queen Elizabeth in a Range Rover to and from several locations throughout her 3-day visit. The Sergeant had also acted as the Queen's chauffeur when she had visited Malta in 2007.  

Video/Photographs: Jonathan Borg

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