Top image: Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Singapore in 1972/The Royal Watcher
Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, aged 96 after a 70-year reign.
The British Monarchy symbolically ruled Singapore when it was still a British crown colony. Singapore becoming a state of Malaysia on 16 September 1963 marked the end of 144 years of British rule on the island.
After separation from Malaysia, Singapore hosted Queen Elizabeth II on three separate occasions: 1972, 1989, and 2006.
19 February 1972, Penthouse Negara
Perched on top of the Ministry of National Development building along Maxwell Road was Penthouse Negara, where Queen Elizabeth II was hosted to dinner by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
From black and white pictures, Penthouse Negara seemed to command a solemn and ceremonial air. It’s no wonder the location has played host to a range of world leaders and ceremonies.
The Queen was on a three-day state visit to the former British colony—it was the evening of her second day in Singapore. She was bound for other parts of Southeast Asia, all part of her larger tour around the region.
In October 1971, merely four months before the Queen’s visit, British troops had withdrawn from Singapore. Only a small number stayed behind—the last of them would leave by 1976.
Singapore’s leaders were caught off guard by the exodus. After all, Britain had initially planned to withdraw their troops by the mid-70s—not by the second year of the new decade. Unsurprisingly, the island-state faced economic and security problems due to the withdrawal of troops.
Despite its seven year independence, fledgling Singapore was only in the midst of weaning itself off British military services.
Back at Penthouse Negara, on the evening of 19 February 1972, Queen Elizabeth II addresses then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in a speech—almost as the Queen’s vote of confidence in Singapore’s leadership and continued success as Britain prepares itself to fully part ways with Singapore.
Mr. Prime Minister,
Thank you for your kind words and for the generous hospitality with which you have entertained us this evening.
We have had two very full and thoroughly interesting days here and all three of us have been deeply impressed by everything we have seen.
To be a modern, thriving and humane community demands great variety of talents and effort. We have seen something of the care for the life of the people in the housing estate at Toa Payoh. We have visited schools and universities without which no community can hope to prosper and develop. We have seen the remarkable industrial development at Jurong.
At the Armed Forces Training Establishment we have seen the expression of that essential factor in every successful community, the will to defend itself.
It is impossible to miss the signs of commercial and industrial activity which alone can generate the prosperity necessary to sustain the struggle towards a better life. We have also been delighted to see that this better life is interpreted in its widest sense and to include the control of pollution, the conservation of nature, and the opportunity to express all that is best in man through every kind of cultural and artistic activity.
All these things are only the outward display of the administrative, commercial and humanitarian energies and the competence of the people of Singapore. These are the people, Mr. Prime Minister, whom you have led and inspired through the last decade of dramatic development. Singapore today would do credit to the most advanced and homogeneous community anywhere in the world. That this has been achieved in a mutli-racial and multi-religious community speaks volumes for the good sense, tolerance and patriotism of all the communities and their leaders in the island. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to witness these things. Singapore is a story of success and you have done more than anyone to write it.
Mr. Prime Minister, I am most grateful for the smooth efficiency of the complicated arrangements made for this visit, and finally I would like you all to know how deeply touched I have been by the warm and generous welcome given to me by so many people.
And now, before you take us on your personally conducted tour of Singapore at night, I raise my glass to the President, and to you our host this evening, and to your family, and wish you all health, happiness and success.
10 October 1989, The Istana
This is a strange one. As Queen Elizabeth II prepared to make the trip down to Singapore in what would be her second state visit to the country, an opposition Workers’ Party member petitioned the Queen to reconsider.
The petition happened in June—just four months before the Queen eventually touched down on our shores in October 1989. While in Singapore she visited Townsville Primary School and was hosted to a state banquet at the Istana by the President.
Swept under the rug of history, the petition argued, in no small way, that the Queen’s visit to Singapore would be perceived as a support for the Singapore government’s recent actions.
Actions, the petition asserts, that contradict the very values the Queen embodies—fundamental British values such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
Unfortunately, records of the Queen’s speech at the Istana cannot be found. What the ’government’s recent actions’ was in reference to remains equally unidentifiable.
17 March 2006, The Istana
The Queen’s last state visit to Singapore was yet another three-day trip. She visited the newly opened National Library Board Building and Biopolis. And yet again, was hosted to a state banquet by President S R Nathan.
By then, Singapore was almost entirely unrecognisable in its make up—a far cry from when The Queen first visited in 1972. In 2006, it was already a sprawling city-state, intent on riding on its economic successes; the country exceeded economic growth forecasts the year before her visit.
Of course, as Singapore matured, so did its goals. It was in the midst of yet another revival, in search of more avenues to continue growth—this time as a knowledge-based economy.
On carefully masterminded blueprints, were plans for the new Research, Innovation, and Enterprise Council and the National Research Foundation. Both in service of boosting Singapore’s research and development capabilities. These were announced the year before in 2005.
By 2006, Singapore had established itself as a sovereign nation capable of self-defence and governance. In The Queen’s speech on her last state visit to Singapore, the island-nation is portrayed as a peer on the international stage.
Thank you for your warm words of welcome and it is a pleasure for me to be in Singapore again. Today both Prince Philip and I have been able to see the immense changes since my last State Visit.
As in the past, we have enjoyed the warm and friendly hospitality of your people. Singaporeans young and old have been gracious and welcoming – we feel very much at home with you.
I have watched Singapore’s development with admiration. Although only forty years old, your country already has a deserved reputation as a centre of excellence in Asia. Singapore has demonstrated an ability to develop and grow, while preserving the best of its traditions.
From inventive architecture and dynamic culture to cutting-edge technology, you have maintained solid foundations while always building for the future. I saw today your wonderful new National Library and Prince Philip visited your science centre at Biopolis. Both are world-class facilities.
Britain has been a close friend of Singapore for almost two hundred years. We are proud of our historical and Commonwealth links and as we look to the future we share a common vision of the societies we would like for our young people – safe, environmentally friendly and full of opportunity. I am pleased that over one hundred and twenty thousand of your young people are undertaking the National Youth Achievement Award.
Our political, defence and trading ties go from strength to strength. We have a shared belief in strengthening international action, including the fight against both terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and our partnership in the Five Power Defence Arrangements remains relevant to the modern security concerns in the region.
Our respective economies are closely linked. Britain is the largest investor in Singapore and we in turn welcome the majority of your investment in the European Union. Britain trades more with Singapore than with many other far larger economies in the world.
And we have common interests in the challenges and opportunities of globalisation. This partnership is extending into new areas such as science, engineering and technology.
Your Excellency, I believe the real strength behind our relationship lies with our people. Many British and Singaporean citizens have first-hand experience of each other’s country. We continue to benefit from thousands of Singaporeans studying at our universities.
Our young people share the same passions. Sport is one of these and I was pleased to see so many young Singaporean athletes earlier this week at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
I hope also that we will see many more of your athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games to be staged in London – a decision so memorably for us taken here in Singapore last summer. Prince Philip will meet some of these young sportsmen and sportswomen during his visit to the Singapore Sports School tomorrow.
These links between people are becoming even more important in our shrinking world. We both have multi-racial and multicultural societies and we value community cohesion.
In Toa Payoh Town today I saw how well this is working in Singapore, where people of different races and religions understand each other and live side-by-side. We can learn a great deal from each other.
Your Excellency, the links between Britain and Singapore are as strong as ever, and our future relationship is bright indeed. We are natural partners in so many ways and I firmly believe this will continue and strengthen in the years ahead.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is in that spirit of partnership that I ask you to rise and drink a toast to: His Excellency, the President and people of Singapore, and to the enduring friendship between our two countries.
8 September 2022, Scotland
Singapore’s relationship with the monarch is a rich and storied one. We express our deepest condolences to the Royal Family, and the people of the United Kingdom, as we mourn the loss of Queen Elizabeth II.