- Noel Coward
Coward’s above comment, which today would be hugely politically incorrect, was a response to a question as to the identity of a small man in the carriage with Queen Salote of Tonga during the procession. Salote was a woman large in importance in Tonga and large in body.
Coward was asked who the tiny man (in comparison) was in the carraige with Queen Salote.
Coward is said to have peered through the rain and replied "Her lunch."
Another version holds that Coward responded to an enquiry from Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.
In a later interview with Walter Harris in 1960 reported in The Times, Coward revealed it had been said by someone at White's Club and was immediately attributed to Coward. "It was very flattering of course, except that I had intended to visit Tonga the following winter, and after that of course it was quite impossible."
Other sources claim that Coward acknowledged making the comment but that he was not its author.
Clive James is of the opinion that Coward did say it but disowned authorship to protect his reputation. According to James, even if he didn’t make the remark originally, his quoting of it brought it to public recognition.
A slightly different version of the incident is offered by Paul Raffaele in his book Among the Cannibals:
In 1953, Salote travelled to London for the coronation of Elizabeth 11. Tall, dusky and regal, the Tongan queen’s Polynesian charm dazzled the British. She won their hearts when she insisted on riding in an open carriage through chilly London rain in the coronation procession, smiling and waving as though it were a sunny summer’s day. Queen Elizabeth and all the other dignitaries rode in carriages with the hoods down.
Salote was splattered with rain but, steeped in Tongan royal custom, she endured the discomfort to show humility and deference to the higher ranked British Queen. Seated opposite Salote in the carriage was a shivering Malay sultan, his gold turban, tunic and pants soaked. “Cold. Get wet, Close roof?” he pleaded.
“I was naughty,” Salote later confided to a senior British civil servant. “ ‘No understand. No speak English,’ I replied”.
Noel Coward forever fixed the incident in cannibal legend when, during the procession, he was asked who was the tiny dignitary in the carriage with the massive Tongan queen. “Her lunch,” he replied.