Friday 26 December 2014

From one throne to another: Queen Elizabeth visits Game of Thrones set

Published 24/06/2014 | 07:11

Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the set of Game of Thrones on day two of a visit to Northern Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the set of Game of Thrones on day two of a visit to Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth is presented with a miniature replica of the Iron Throne during a visit to the set of the television show Game of Thrones in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip talk with members of the cast on the set of the television show Game of Thrones in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland, June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the set of Game of Thrones on day two of a visit to Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II during a tour of Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast, on day two of their visit to Northern Ireland. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth smiles during a visit to the set of the television show Game of Thrones in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Reuters/Phil Noble
Britain's Queen Elizabeth meets Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during a private audience at Hillsborough Castle June 23, 2014.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth looks at the Iron Throne as she meets members of the cast on the set of the television show Game of Thrones in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland, REUTERS/Phil Noble
Queen Elizabeth II meets First Minister Martin McGuinness during a private audience at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast
Queen Elizabeth II meets First Minister Martin McGuinness during a private audience at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast

The Queen and Prince Philip went on a tour of the Game of Thrones set in Northern Ireland today.

The royals spent time chatting with stars of the HBO production, including 17-year-old Maisie Williams, who plays the spirited Arya Stark and 18-year-old Sophie Turner, Arya's elder and more reserved sister Sansa in the show.

Local Ballymena-born actor Conleth Hill who plays the maniputalive Lord Varys was also on hand to show the dramatic influence the hit show has had on telly addicts and the Northern Ireland economy.

Lena Headey, who plays the conniving Queen Cersei Lannister, Kit Harington who plays Jon Snow and Rose Leslie also shook hands with the royal couple.

George RR Martin's epic story has brought £82 million to the region in the biggest television production in Europe - the equivalent of 900 full-time and 5,700 part-time jobs.

The Queen was shown handmade costumes and props and armoury that has helped further the cult following Game of Thrones has built.

She was also presented with a miniature replica of the Iron Throne of Westeros - the real seat is said to be coveted by only the most machiavellian of kings.

David Benioff and Dan Weiss, executive producers and writers of Game of Thrones led the tour through the Paint Hall where the sets for the Red Keep and the Throne Room are housed.

The success of the show is furthering Northern Ireland's reputation as a go-to place for the film industry.

A strong crew base, stunning locations, studio facilities and financial incentives, are ranking the region as one of the most sought-after filming locations for both film and television productions.

After just over half hour at the studios the royal couple were driven out of the old shipyard area and into the heart of Belfast where a lunch was being held in their honour at the City Hall.

Before their engagement at City Hall, the Royal couple stopped off at the nearby St George's market.

The Queen and Duke chatted to local traders as they walked round a diverse range of stalls.

Crowds packed the narrow passageways to get a glimpse of the VIP visitors.

At the end of her walkabout, chairman of the traders Pat Dyer presented the couple with a hamper packed full of locally made products.

"It was absolutely superb," Mr Dyer said of the visit.

His three-year-old grandson Jack Morgan gave the Queen a cushion with an image of a helicopter on it for Prince George.

"He's been practising and he said when he handed her the cushion 'this is for baby George'," said Mr Dyer.

Earlier, Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers returned to the Belfast prison where they were both detained during the Troubles as they accompanied the Queen on a tour of the premises.

Once a forbidding facility synonymous with the dark years of the conflict, the transformation of the old Crumlin Road Gaol into a popular visitor attraction is symbolic of Northern Ireland's journey toward peace.

There could have been few stronger validations of that theme than the sight of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh alongside First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in the corridors of the 19th Century building.

Sinn Fein veteran and former IRA commander Mr McGuinness was held in the prison for over a month in 1976 on a charge of IRA membership - a count that was later dropped in court.

Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson was detained on a number of occasions during the 1980s for his involvement in protests against the controversial Anglo Irish Agreement.

Now leaders of Stormont's powersharing administration, both men welcome the Queen and Duke this morning.

Earlier cheering crowds waving Union flags greeted the Royal couple as they arrived. Once inside, Her Majesty and the Duke were taken on a guided tour of the 19th Century building.

Among those the Queen was introduced to was lottery millionaire from Belfast Peter Lavery, who is turning A Wing into a boutique whiskey distillery.

Among the cells they passed in C Wing was the room where 12 condemned prisoners were hanged.

Outside in the prison courtyard as the tour concluded the Royal couple were waved off by local schoolchildren.

The symbolic visit unfolded after the Queen last night held her first one to one meeting with Mr McGuinness.

The private audience at Hillsborough Castle was the third encounter between Her Majesty and Mr McGuinness but the first on an individual to individual basis.

Images of the monarch and the high profile republican exchanging pleasantries and small talk as they walked slowly around the old prison this morning would scarcely have been imaginable three years ago, never mind in the decades scarred by violence.

But the watershed moment in 2012 when Her Majesty and Mr McGuinness met for the first occasion, and shook hands, has paved the way for further strides to normalise relations between Irish republicanism and the British establishment in the post-conflict era.

Mr McGuinness described the Queen's visit to the Crumlin Road prison as another "bold step" by the monarch.

"The vast bulk of our people appreciate the effort Queen Elizabeth is making to peace and the reconciliation process and I think many people will look at the visit to the Crumlin Road prison, for example, with a degree of astonishment," he said.

The jail visit is the first engagement of five for the Royal couple in Belfast today.

Their schedule also includes a tour of the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones in east Belfast.

Much of the popular HBO series is filmed in the Painthall studios in the city's regenerated docklands.

The Queen and Duke will also pop into the bustling St George's Market in Belfast city centre, be guests at a reception and lunch at Belfast City Hall and attend a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.

The castle is also playing host to experts and crew from the Antiques Roadshow this week and the Queen and Duke will stop by to visit them tomorrow.

During her time across the Irish Sea, Her Majesty will also attend a Royal British Legion reception in Coleraine in Co Londonderry where she will launch a programme of activities commemorating the First World War.

As with a range of recent royal engagements involving Ireland, both north and south, the themes of reconciliation, regeneration and focusing on the future are being emphasised during what is the Queen and Duke's 21st visit to Northern Ireland.

While past trips have seen the Queen's itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week's engagements in the region have been publicised in advance.

The Queen and Duke last visited Northern Ireland in 2012 as part of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

That occasion proved highly symbolic in terms of the peace process as it marked the first occasion she met Mr McGuinness.

The Queen also took in the sights of one of television's most popular fantasy shows, Game of Thrones.

In a whistlestop tour of the new Titanic studios in the old Belfast shipyard, and the old Paint Hall where many scenes are shot, the royal was given a first hand guide to the work that goes into making a bloodcurdling saga with millions of followers.

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