Prince Charles almost lost his Hong Kong handover speech after cleaner threw

The Prince of Wales’s speech was nearly lost just minutes before the historic handover of Hong Kong, it has emerged.The rain-soaked last hurrah had already been beset with problems including the fact that the heir to the throne was completely drenched as he took to the grandstand alongside outgoing governor Chris Patten.Now a new book has revealed how the carefully prepared words he was about to deliver on behalf of the Queen were thrown in the bin by an over zealous cleaner in the run up to the midnight ceremony on June 30, 1997.Grandstands for thousands of spectators and VIPs had been erected around the parade ground at HMS Tamar, the main British base, which was to become headquarters 496 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as the clock struck 12.It was essential for British prestige and national pride that the symbolic moment should be conducted without a hitch.According to Robert Hardman, author of Queen of the World, the Prince’s equerry Lieutenant Commander John Lavery had placed the Prince’s speech on his own seat for safekeeping before introducing his boss to the VIPs.“As the Pipes and Drums of the Black Watch ushered all the military detachments into the centre of the parade square, Lavery reached for the Prince’s speech. It was not there,” writes Hardman.A frantic search ensured as Lavery began contemplating the end of his career when he suddenly spotted a diligent cleaner emptying the contents of a dustpan into a bin off to one side.With moments to spare, he found the royal speech in the bin, extracted it and returned to the VIP grandstand, where he handed it to the Prince.The book adds: “The proceedings were not helped by a tropical downpour, which, in the absence of covered grandstands, drenched all those without an umbrella – including the Prince himself. Dressed in full Royal Navy uniform, he at least had the luxury of a peaked cap. The outgoing governor, Chris Patten, looked as if he had gone swimming fully clothed.”The heir to the throne’s misery was further compounded by the fact that the trip was his last on Royal Yacht Britannia before it was decommissioned.He later courted controversy when diaries he wrote during the tour were leaked describing the Chinese dignitaries as “appalling wax works”. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.

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