What Really Happened the Moment Elizabeth Discovered She Was Queen

A cousin of Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip was a witness to history during that fateful day

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrive in Nairobi in Kenya in February 1952. Photo: CAMERA PRESS/The Times/Redux

As Queen Elizabeth prepares to mark 70 years on the throne, she will also be honoring the memory of her father, King George VI, who died on February 6, 1952, making a young Princess Elizabeth the new monarch.

For Queen Elizabeth, it was to be a relaxing, wildlife-watching stop in Kenya during what was set to be a long tour while her ailing father, King George VI, rested back home in England.

But everything changed on February 6, 1952, when George died in his sleep — making his direct heir and elder daughter, Elizabeth, the new monarch at age 25.

Lady Pamela Hicks, a cousin of Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip and one of the couple's bridesmaids, was a witness to history during that fateful trip.

"My mother remembered very clearly that when she heard the news, she paced up and down, up and down with Philip and the ladies-in-waiting and the private secretary," Lady Pamela's daughter India Hicks tells PEOPLE. The moment gained renewed attention when it was dramatized on the hit Netflix series The Crown.

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"Finally when the Queen had gathered herself, she said, 'I'm so sorry, but we are going to have to go back to England,' " says Hicks. "That was so indicative of the Queen that she would have apologized for something like that. They all said, 'Don't be ridiculous.' "

She adds, "My mother gave her a hug and suddenly remembered, 'This is my queen,' and dropped into a deep curtsy."

The scene in season one of The Crown when a wild elephant is faced down by a bold Philip didn't happen, Hicks says. But it was a dramatic scene, typical of series creator Peter Morgan, who also memorably wrote about a magnificent stag that transfixes a later-in-life imagining of Elizabeth in his 2006 Oscar-winning film The Queen.

And the depiction of the remote treetop viewing platform and lodge in Kenya's Aberdare national park is certainly true.

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As Lady Pamela put it to PEOPLE a few years ago of the moment that history, unbeknownst to Elizabeth, changed for her, "She went up that ladder a princess and came down a queen."

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Lady Pamela recalled the romantic, exciting break in Kenya, after a week of official engagements. "They had been fishing and riding but the climax of it was a night up the tree to look at the game. She had her cine camera with her and for her it was the absolute highlight. And had been tremendously excited by all the game we had seen. She kept talking about how she was going to write to her parents and describe it all."

There followed the difficult flight home. "When we landed in England and seeing Winston Churchill and others drawn up on the tarmac, there was this sudden realization that this was the end of her private life," Lady Pamela added.

Last week, Queen Elizabeth traveled to Sandringham in Norfolk, where her father died 70 years ago. She will remain there to mark the poignant anniversary on Feb. 6. The monarch is reportedly staying at Wood Farm, the cottage on Sandringham Estate where Prince Philip, who died in April at age 99, largely lived before he headed to Windsor Castle at the start of the pandemic to isolate alongside his wife.

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