By Alan Graham
He wanted to learn to surf in the Pacific Ocean at Coronado Beach. He, unlike ordinary people, cannot simply grab a board and walk into the pounding surf because he must be escorted wherever he goes. He is an expert pilot and an excellent horseman. He is a man, who is both fit and trim, and loves to engage in many different sports. That day, he had chosen to try his hand at surfing which requires that he be extremely fit so as to endure the pounding waves that were very substantial.
His escorts called the only local Coronado surf shop. It was run by longtime resident, Bob Duryea, who was an excellent surfer himself. They wanted to rent several surfboards for the day and requested that they be sent to NAS North Island along with an instructor.
I was in the store visiting when the call came in. When Bob hung up the phone, he said, “That was the security detail for the Prince of Wales and he wants to learn to surf.”
Commander Bob McNeary was in charge of the Prince’s security. The personal bodyguard was a bulky Royal marine from the Prince’s own regiment and was highly proficient in the martial arts. When Commander McNeary escorted the Prince and his bodyguard through a hole in the fence, which separated the base and the public beach, he was met by Bob, myself, and several other friends. Bob even brought along one of his daughters, Debbie.
We were all excited to meet the royal figure and to watch him take on the powerful California surf. Bob had selected six surf boards for the royal surfer. As they all donned their wetsuits, the Prince picked up one, and began walking toward the surf. Not so fast your highness! The Prince and his bodyguard would need some expert instruction before he entered the big breakers and had his ego bruised. For surely, the six-foot surf would smash them before they could even get outside the thundering waves that were slamming down hard onto the sand.
Duryea went ahead showing them how to roll under a breaking wave and then continued paddling out past the break line. The Limey visitors followed suit and were soon bobbing on their boards as they waited for the first wave to break. The Prince jumped the gun and tried to grab the first wave, but Bob stopped him, and then showed him how the wave dissipated too soon.
It was on soon after that, when a bruiser rose behind them. Bob yelled, “This is the one!” All three pulled their boards into position and were soon streaking off under a huge wave. Bob was pure art as he rode the wave all the way to the shore. The royals did not make it halfway, as both of them fell off, and were duly bashed down under the foam. They tried again and again, but to no avail, and were soon very, very, tired. With all the resilience of a tennis ball, they sallied forth only to have their efforts rejected by Mother Nature.
After an hour, they returned to the shore beaten and tired. As they tried to take off their wetsuits, they found it almost impossible to lift up their arms to unzip the tight-fitting rubber. The big bodyguard was rendered practically useless if he was needed to protect the Prince.
After a rather embarrassing struggle which only abated when the Prince helped the royal guard get unzipped. They were both completely out of breath. When we asked if we could take a photograph with them, they sort of groaned but posed graciously.
We had a cool series of shots of the future King of England as he surfed the golden sands of Coronado, California — one of the most beautiful places on earth. When the Prince was about to leave he posed with us all for snapshots, we recorded a piece of our and British history, a memory which still remains exquisitely indelible in the Hippocampus
We stood watching as the spent duo, now red-faced and duly fatigued, dressed and readied. Out of thin air and with great swiftness, a heavily armed squad of security personnel burst onto the scene. They were lead by a very serious looking man who was not military and certainly not an American. He spoke in a hushed tone with a British accent, “Your Majesty, might I have a word.” The Prince leaned forward to listen, and in the blink of an eye, was whisked away through the hole in the fence from where he came.
We stood there looking at each other for a moment. We were stunned. It was as if he had been taken away by aliens. We were in shock. It was not until the next morning before we understood what had occurred to cause such a royal panic.
Minutes before the incident, and six thousand miles away in London, a mental patient had decided to fire six shots from a gun into the royal limousine carrying the sister of the Prince, Princess Anne.
The failed kidnapping attempt was made on March 20, 1974. To this day, it remains the closest any individual has come to kidnapping a member of the royal family. The incident occurred as Princess Anne and Mark Philips were returning to Buckingham Palace from an engagement. Their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce was blocked in the road on Pall Mall by another car. A man, Ian Ball, jumped from the car and fired the six shots, wounding several people on the street. Anne’s private detective jumped across to shield the princess, and then returned fire, injuring the kidnapper, who at this point had tried to gain entry to the car. A nearby police officer gave chase and arrested Ian Ball. He would later be imprisoned in a mental hospital. In his pocket was a ransom note to the Queen for £3 million. The incident prompted higher security levels for the royal family.
The intruder was subdued and order was restored, but not before Buckingham Palace issued an alert to all security forces around the world for every single member of the Windsor family to be immediately secured and sequestered until further notice.
When the local paper, which was then called the Coronado Journal, covered the story, they published a photo of the Prince at the beach posing with us locals.