Royal fluke: CSU Professor reflects on time spent as royal photographer

Photo Credit: Phil Wanyerka – Queen Elizabeth talks to a nun at the Church of Nazarene in Belize, 1994.

How a nun helped a former Cleveland State student in Belize, who was at the right place at the right time, become the official photographer of Queen Elizabeth for a day during her Caribbean tour.

Phil Wanyerka was an undergraduate studying anthropology at CSU. In 1994, he and Peter Dunham, a now-retired Cleveland State professor, were in Belize working for the World Bank on a project.

Wanyerka took advantage of a day off by visiting the Church of Nazarene in his canary yellow t-shirt and shorts, holding a camera, making him stand out. A nun asked him if he could take photos for them with the Queen. Wanyerka knew he probably was not allowed, but a nun made sure he could.

“This [nun] asked me to be the photographer for them, and the military were saying no,” Wanyerka told The Cauldron. “So she went to one of the lieutenants and said ‘Who’s your boss?’ And he pointed over there, and she ran over to that guy, and she said ‘Who’s your boss?’”

While this happened, a convoy rolled up with the Queen and a bunch of chase cars with paparazzi. The press secretary to the Queen pulled Wanyerka to the side and told him he was allowed one camera and one video camera for Wanyerka to come with him into the church.

“I’m walking with him, and he’s telling me about etiquette. You only talk to the Queen if she talks to you. If she says something to you, you got a bow and all this,” Wanyerka said. “I’m more worried about making sure I got film in my camera than anything else.”

Wanyerka strategically moved around the rooms to photograph the Queen as she entered and left them. However, he got stuck in a corner with people surrounding him, but royalty saw him.

Photo Credit: Phil Wanyerka – Queen Elizabeth talks to a nun at the Church of Nazarene in Belize, 1994.

“She sees me in a row, and she gives me one of those up and down,” Wanyerka said. “And she goes, ‘And whom might you be?’”

“I’m Phil Wanyerka,” he replied. “I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, and I am here as an archeologist.”

“Charmed,” The Queen said back to him, and walked away. However, Wanyerka would follow the Queen to the airport, where she met with Prince Charles and Prince Philip.

Photo Credit: Phil Wanyerka – Queen Elizabeth with Prince Philip in Belize, 1994.

“I got there, the British soldiers remembered me from the convent, waved me up,” Wanyerka said. “I got to go right up to the plane with these guys. I shook everybody’s hand. Right. A lot of paparazzi are back behind the barricades, and they’re pissed off.”

While the paparazzi questioned how that guy got up there, Wanyerka, now an anthropology professor at CSU, reflected on his time meeting the late Queen Elizabeth.

“I was a student, an archeologist at that time, from Cleveland, Ohio, standing there, meeting {royalty},” Wanyerka said.