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Victoria's own 'Queen Elizabeth' hangs up her royal robes

Carolyn Sadowska has appeared as the Queen for 38 years in commercials, at conventions, in parades and at innumerable parties. She started impersonating the monarch shortly after taking an evening class in improv comedy.

A Victoria woman who impersonated the Queen for the past 38 years is preparing to retire her tiara and hang up her regal gowns after the monarch’s passing.

“I always knew this day would come,” said Carolyn Enid Sadowska, as she packed up memorabilia, costumes and props this week.

Sadowska, who has appeared as the Queen in commercials, at conventions, in parades and at innumerable parties, started impersonating the monarch shortly after taking an evening class in improv comedy.

Needing characters to use in her routine, she decided she would like to play the Queen.

She made her first tiara out of cardboard, wire and lace, then got a big break when businessman Jim Pattison saw her act on the main stage at Expo 86.

He introduced her to guests at a party he was throwing and the next thing she knew, she was offered a job meeting and greeting guests for the rest of the exposition.

Sadowska said her aim for the character was simply to make people laugh and feel good. Her Queen persona wasn’t stuffy or regal. She based it on the way she saw the Queen — as “all that was good in the world,” with a sense of humour.

“The experience was a gift to me. I feel privileged to have been able to make people laugh — because as we laugh, we laugh together,” said Sadowska. “I sense [the audience] often felt closer to the real Queen after having fun with me.”

Sadowska said she stopped counting the number of times she has impersonated the Queen. She has travelled the world to star in commercials, entertain delegates at conventions, deliver opening remarks at meetings and once — in Victoria — to stand in for the real Queen during a full dress rehearsal for an upcoming visit.

Some assignments were spectacular: She once entered a ballroom in Whistler on a “lovely” sleigh. Another time, her entrance on a horse-drawn carriage was preceded by a 40-piece Beefeater band.

Frequently, her job wasn’t just to be seen — she was expected to mingle and interact.

She would prepare comedy material specific to the event when given advance information on the guests, or do her own research online.

At a gathering of head and neck surgeons, she told the audience the “Queen” always wanted to be a head and neck surgeon — and did so as a hobby. She then went on to demonstrate an experimental procedure she had developed. Alas, the volunteer lost his head in that skit.

Occasionally, things wouldn’t go as planned. On one occasion, she prepared material to entertain a group of neurologists — and discovered she was actually speaking to urologists.

Another time, her job was to mingle and crack jokes at a function. When she arrived, she discovered her audience was Japanese and didn’t understand English.

“I find that most people are prepared to suspend reality for about 30 minutes, allowing them to accept the charade and play along,” said Sadowska, who has lived in Victoria since 1985.

Impersonation is her full-time job. Along with Queen Elizabeth II, she also plays Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra and Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen Elizabeth II character was by far the most called-upon, however.

She has performed together with other impersonators. She worked with Winnie Cooper, who played Lady Di until Diana passed away in 1997. More recently, she has worked with Karen Brelsford, who plays Catherine, now the Princess of Wales.

She never met the real Queen — the closest she got to royalty was when she was introduced to the real Lady Brabourne, the second Countess Mountbatten, at a function at the Calgary Stampede.

As for commercials, she filmed a Coca-Cola commercial in Barcelona masquerading as London — complete with a red double-decker bus in the background — that was destined for the Japanese market.

The commercial must have been well received because she was invited to appear in a Japanese game show singing a song in Japanese — although she doesn’t sing and doesn’t know Japanese.

She appeared in character in two Disney movies as well as two in the Punjabi language. While she doesn’t have a dog, they seem to relate to her, making it easier when the script calls for the character to interact with corgis, a favourite of the real Queen.

As she grew up in Quebec, she is fluent in French.

“I would always have fun with Quebec audiences,” said Sadowska. “They would all be surprised to discover that the ‘Queen’ spoke French really well.”

While she packs up the years of fond memories, she is already falling back on her parallel career as an abstract artist, with work displayed in local galleries.

She said she will miss her Queen character, which provided her with a decent income for nearly four decades. Her art studio, in the backyard of her James Bay character house, was built with money from her performances.

As she prepares to bid farewell to the Queen, she has said goodbye to her “royal” family as well.

“Together, we’ve been able to make a lot of people laugh. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Sadowska said in a parting letter to Brelsford.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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