Excited pupils from West Earlham Infant and Nursery School and Bluebell Primary School were among those to give a warm welcome to the Queen who was dressed in a striking fuschia and black outfit for the occasion.
She was greeted by the UEA’s vice-chancellor, Professor David Richardson, the Fiji High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Jitoko Tikolevu.
Once inside the Sainsbury Centre, she enjoyed a tour of the exhibition Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific, which is thought to be the world’s largest show about the island nation and takes visitors through more than 200 years of the country’s history from the late 18th century to the present day.
The Queen’s tour began with a Fijian choir performing for her next to one of the exhibition highlights - a specially-commissioned Fijian sailing canoe which featured in the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration pageant at Windsor Castle - before she was taken around the rest of the show by curators Professor Steven Hooper, Dr Karen Jacobs and Ms Katrina Igglesden.
Professor Hooper said it was a very special day and wonderful to see the Queen - who has visited Fiji a number of times - show such enthusiasm for the exhibition.
“We are really happy that she was able to come, and the Fijians who came here today were all really happy and proud. They will never forget today and nor will I,” he said.
“After the President of Fiji opened the exhibition in October he had an audience with the Queen and gave her a copy of the catalogue, and she showed interest in wanting to see the exhibition when she was at Sandringham. Now it has happened, and it is brilliant.
“She knows Fiji, she was really engaged in the exhibition, really enjoyed the choir singing and looking at particular objects that have royal association.”
Among the exhibits the Queen paused to look at was a ceremonial whale tooth, or tabua, which she was presented with during her first visit to Fiji in December 1953, and she also watched black and white footage of the tour.
There were many treasures in the exhibition which caught the Queen’s eye, including some which had special connections.
One of them was a wedding dress created using traditional Fijian barkcloth textiles which are made from paper mulberry trees.
Ms Igglesden, who showed the Queen the dress, said: “The dress is the wedding dress of [former Fijian president and prime minister] Ratu Kamisese Mara’s daughter and interestingly the Queen’s comment to me was that his daughter married Her Majesty’s lady in waiting’s son and so she knows the personal connection between this Fijian family and the British family. “To be able to show her something that she actually knew the people it related to was really nice.”
Other items prompted the Queen to reminisce about her experiences while in Fiji.
Dr Jacobs said: “She was interested in a really big kava bowl and we actually spoke about the fact that she drank kava [a traditional Fijian drink] during a visit to Fiji.
The Queen was given posies of flowers by Clara Winner, 11, and Mirabelle Harden, eight. Milla and Roxy Goos, aged seven and 10, presented the Queen with a fan and an album full of photos of the exhibition and her Fiji visits. The Queen also met a number of people including UEA students and Fijians living in the UK before unveiling a plaque to mark the visit.
It had been thought the Duke of Edinburgh was to attend yesterday’s visit, but a Buckingham Palace spokesman said he had been scheduled in error. The spokesman said he was “perfectly well” and had other private engagements at Sandringham today.
The exhibition runs until February 12. Click here for more information.
Pupils from two nearby schools were among the people to welcome the Queen.
About 160 pupils from West Earlham Infant and Nursery School attended the occasion.
Headteacher Binks Neate-Evans said: “Each class made their own decorations, some made Fijian flags, some did pictures they thought the Queen would like, including corgis and horses, others made themselves red, white and blue necklaces and some made crowns. We also made a big banner. They were so excited and I think they realised it was a very special occasion for the school to see the Queen. Hopefully it will be a lasting memory for them.”
About 60 children from Bluebell Primary School were also there.
Teacher Laura Bradshaw said: “We had made a big banner for the occasion and the children were so excited to have the opportunity to see the Queen...One of the little boys said, “it was the best day of my life,” and that he thought the Queen was beautiful. At school we will be writing about the day the children saw the Queen.”
The Queen's visit to the Fiji Exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre. Pictures: DENISE BRADLEY