'Do you know the Queen?' people always asked. “No, but she knows me”, I would reply. Not arrogance but plain fact. The Queen needed to know who was reporting on her for BBC television because, as her former press secretary Michael Shea put it: “Fifty per cent of the Queen’s job is being seen”.

And I did see her, weaving her magical, very personal spell, from Kathmandu in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, to the balmy Bahamas, by way of the frozen wastes of Canada’s Saskatchewan province, to a sub-tropical swamp in the north island of New Zealand that someone decided the Queen should get up early to officially open one morning in 1987.

Wherever she was, whatever the day’s programme, two things were constant: the Queen and her kind, encouraging smile, taking an interest in everything and making people feel special because they were in her presence.

Eastern Daily Press: The Queen and Prince Philip visiting Ranworth Broad in 1976The Queen and Prince Philip visiting Ranworth Broad in 1976 (Image: Archant)

What is the essence of good manners? Putting others at ease by never doing or saying anything that might make them uneasy or upset. For 70 years, in 114 countries, the Queen did precisely that. She conveyed an air that I can only describe as sheer goodness -- kindness, generosity of spirit, goodwill personified.

Can virtue be powerful? With the Queen it was. That is why I have found it so hard at her funeral to reconcile the sight of the coffin draped in her personal standard, with the small woman with the bright blue eyes who I followed around the world. A woman who saw everything -- the best and worst of times and of people -- and never doubted that everything would be alright in the end because of her unshakeable faith in God.

I was eight when she came to the throne. I wrote my first royal story in 1962, when I was 19 and she was only 10 years into her unprecedented 70 years on the throne.

As the BBC’s court correspondent, with a Buckingham Palace pass that allowed me to park in the courtyard and enter the Privy Purse door whenever I needed to, I followed the Queen wherever she went, observing her work and how she did it.

Did I know her? No, very few people did, just her family and a close group of trusted friends. I never interviewed her because she never gave interviews. But I formed a clear impression of the late Queen.

Eastern Daily Press: The Queen attending a morning service at her beloved Sandringham ChurchThe Queen attending a morning service at her beloved Sandringham Church (Image: Archant © 2008)

At heart, she was a countrywoman, the Squire of Sandringham or the Laird of Balmoral, never happier than when dressed in jodhpurs and a hacking jacket, the Hermes scarf tied under her chin, riding down to the Royal Stud near Anmer Hall.

There she would observe the stallions covering the mares. There was nothing about the breeding of thoroughbreds that the Queen did not know or glory in knowing.

She was naturally down-to-earth and unfussy, making a point of feeding her dogs personally and walking them before turning in at night, whenever duty allowed her to be at home.

A notably pretty child and strikingly beautiful young woman, she was completely without vanity and never aspired to be a fashion plate, regarding the clothes, hats and jewels as the props that were required for the public performance she perfected over decades.

The job was grand. She was not. I enjoyed the occasional glimpses of the real Queen: leaning on the rail of the Royal Yacht watching every movement of 'Beating Retreat' by Britannia’s Royal Marines band, bouncing on the balls of her feet to every beat of the music.

Only occasionally did the mask of perfection fall. When the Bahamian prime minister took some Commonwealth leaders on a booze cruise around Nassau in 1985 so that they arrived badly late for the family photograph on Britannia’s deck, the frustrated monarch finally snapped. Her press secretary was standing between the group and the cameras: “Michael, you in the way. Get out of the way!”

Suddenly realising we were filming, she then gave us the widest and most glorious of smiles. She’d allowed herself to be caught off guard but really quite enjoyed it.

Eastern Daily Press: Queen and Queen Mother with Sandringham WI in 1968Queen and Queen Mother with Sandringham WI in 1968 (Image: Archant)

What an extraordinary life. Her every waking moment observed and noted. Not something most of us would welcome. She never went to school. When she joined the Brownies, the pack came to her. Though she would certainly have vetoed the idea, history should know her as 'Elizabeth the Great'.

She didn’t think she was marvellous but she was. Here’s an example:

In my first week as BBC TV court correspondent, a newspaper splashed the headline: 'Queen heart scare'. The story said she had been consulting doctors.

“Is it true?” my editor asked. “Can you stand the story up?”

Before I could call a friendly cardiologist in Harley Street, the Queen killed the story. She sprinted 92 steps up a lighthouse in Aberdeen, leaving half a dozen men panting behind her.

That was her way of scotching an untrue story. Unable to answer directly, she made her point by demonstrating its falsity.

To ram the message home, the following year she climbed the Great Wall of China like a chamois, snapping photographs on her gold-plated Leica as she went.

In places, the wall is extremely steep. One by one, her courtiers fell behind. The Queen was heading in the general direction of Mongolia, when her private secretary waved to her to come back.

In 1986, she was showing that she was fitter than most and well up to the physical demands of a long days, with hour upon hour of standing patiently to allow others their moment of glory.

The Queen got on with Her Majesty’s Corps of Scribes and Snappers pretty well but was stickler for detail, especially when it came to the Commonwealth.

Covering a tour of Canada in 1978, BBC Radio’s Stephen Claypole reported a row that had broken out between the federal government and the provinces. The Queen heard his report while on her aircraft, thought it was wrong and went looking for Claypole at a reception in Newfoundland.

She questioned him closely about his perfectly accurate report until the Daily Express’s renowned royal photographer John Downing came to his rescue by changing the subject to the noise of the Vickers VC-10 in which she was flying. “Not as noisy as the BAC 11’s and Tridents that circle Windsor Castle”, said the Queen. “They rattle our windows”.

Claypole recently recalled: “The Queen certainly knew more about the Canadian Constitution than I did. She did ask me for a copy of my script which I quickly consigned to the wastepaper basket”.

A rare Royal command that was not obeyed.

When a minor royal personage moaned to me about negative stories, I told him the time for the Royal Family to worry about the media was when the media were no longer interested.

With the Queen, from first to last, we were always interested.