Follow Us On

The Queen and Everest

Queen Elizabeth II, the Coronation and Everest 1953

Queen Elizabeth II has sadly died and with her passing has gone a ‘constant’ from our lives. She was a global icon of tremendous standing and made many important connections with people from across Britain, the Commonwealth and beyond. However, it was the astounding serendipity of the Queen’s Coronation taking place on the exact same day that global news sources reported the successful ascent of Mount Everest in June 1953 that inexorably connected the first ascent of Mount Everest and its enduring legacy with the Queen and Prince Philip for decades to come.

The coming together of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the first ascent of Mt Everest by the British Mt Everest expedition in 1953 was uplifting and marvellous news. This was particularly due to the fact that just eight years had passed since the end of the Second World War, leaving a war-ravaged Europe and a crippled global economy. Suddenly, there were reasons to celebrate! As Britain put the finishing touches to plans for the Queen’s Coronation, the whole world watched in anticipation for news from the summit of the unclimbed Mt Everest on 29 May.

No-one knew if it was possible to climb to that great altitude and remain conscious; would the climbing difficulties prove beyond those who had decided to try? The expedition team’s meticulous planning and efforts were rewarded when two of their members, Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, reached the 8,850-metre-high top of Mt Everest and in doing so expanded the realm of possibility for every one of us. They gave the world collective proof that ‘we can climb Everest!’

On 30 May, Hillary and Tenzing descended the Lhotse Wall into the fabled Western CWM below Mt Everest, and the whole team learned for the first time of their success of the climb. James Morris of The Times newspaper wrote a coded message and descended on foot down the Khumbu Icefall to the basecamp where he sent his ‘mail by runner’ to Namche Bazaar. Here, the obtuse message was relayed by radio to the British Embassy in Kathmandu. The news finally reached The Times in London the day before the Coronation. It confirmed that the summit had been reached and identified who the summiteers were. On the day of the Coronation on 2 June, newspapers were full of the Everest success. “All this and Everest too!”

English mountaineer and expedition team member, Eric Shipton wrote, “Of course I’m really delighted that it was Ed Hillary who pulled it off – he is a grand mountaineer and a delightful person; he is one of the few I know who has the strength of character to withstand the avalanche of public acclamation that is coming to him. And nothing could have been more fitting than that Tenzing was his partner mountaineer to be the first to reach the summit.”

John Hunt, the expedition leader, said of the ascent “The story of the ascent of Everest is one of teamwork. If there is a deeper and more lasting message behind our adventure than the mere ephemeral sensation of a physical feat, I believe this to be the value of comradeship ….. Comradeship, regardless of race or creed, is forged among high mountains, through the difficulties and dangers to which they expose those who aspire to climb them, the need to combine their efforts to attain their goal, the thrill of a great adventure shared together.”  and “for the ascent of Everest was not the work of one day, nor even of those few anxious weeks in which we prepared and climbed this summer. It is, in fact, that tale of tenacious endeavour by many, over a long period of time…’ Ultimately, the justification for climbing Everest, if any justification is needed, will lie in the seeking of “Everests” by others, stimulated by this event as we were inspired by others before us.”

The members of the Mt Everest expedition reached London on 2 July 1953 and Queen Elizabeth knighted both John Hunt, the expedition leader, and Ed Hillary and Tenzing received the George Cross medal. It was the start of a long and enjoyable relationship with the Queen and Prince Philip, who had been the patron of the Everest Expedition and the wider Everest team. John Hunt worked with Prince Philip for 10 years to develop the D of E Award, enjoyed by millions of young people around the world and both John and Ed were made members of the Order of Garter, the highest honour bestowed by the British monarchy.

Whenever they met, there was plenty to talk about and a modicum of jocular sparring between Prince Philip and Ed with the Queen looking on, smiling. In 2008, after Ed Hillary had died, Queen Elizabeth held a Thanksgiving service at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle for the man who had climbed Mt Everest and built schools and hospitals for the people of the Mt Everest Himalaya. Afterwards, she hosted the Hillary family with an audience at Windsor Castle where she and Princess Anne shared warm and convivial conversation.

The Queen and Prince Philip attended every 10yr (Everest) Anniversary lecture at The Royal Geographical Society in London. On 29 May 2013, at the 60th anniversary Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip filed up onto the stage to greet the Everest mountaineers who had just given a speech. Peter Hillary recalls “I shook the Queen’s hand and then Prince Philip’s, to whom I said how much I knew my father would have loved to have been there for the celebration. Without a pause, Prince Philip looked up to the lofty ceilings of the Royal Geographical Society and said, “Oh well, he will be around here somewhere!” We both laughed, because that restless energy of Ed Hillary is still with us and very much alive.

The same applies for Queen Elizabeth who will be sorely missed at next year’s 70th anniversary, but we’d like to believe she will be there somewhere on our journey celebrating the lasting legacy of the first ascent of Mount Everest.


As registered charities and foundations, we continue to work with the communities of Nepal.
By clicking on the logos below you can find out more about our work and how you can help support us.