“If he’s anything like the person I met and he rules the country like that, there’ll be no problem”
The Belfast bombshell met the future King Charles III at the official reopening of the Grand Opera House in March when the monarch proved to be game for a laugh.
For funny man John Linehan, who’s been performing as May for 35 years it was the latest in a long line of royal engagements after meeting Princess Anne, Prince Philip and being presented with his MBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
And if the new monarch follows in his mother’s footsteps, he’ll do well says John.
“The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and his mother was a good woman. If he’s anything like the person I met and he rules the country like that, there’ll be no problem.”
John, who’s about to celebrate 32 years as Belfast’s panto queen knew the Opera House was expecting a special visitor for its re-launch earlier this year but only found out at the last minute it was the future king.
Decked out as May in layers of shocking pink chiffon he reveals the then Prince was up for a bit of banter.
“He told me I was looking well and asked if it was hard missing a year’s work because of the pandemic. I told him it was a nightmare for my wife who’s not used to having me home over Christmas and kept telling me to go out for a drink.
“He was having a bit of craic and he asked, ‘does your wife wear men’s clothes at the weekend?’ I said, ‘you obviously know her,’” says John.
“I’m not a big one for the monarchy but he took time for everyone and you could see he loved the couple of yarns I told on the stage at the start and asked me if I’d be doing any more.”
In his years on the showbiz circuit John also met Prince Philip, when May’s motherly ways nearly ended badly.
He was working at the Ulster Motor Show with Downtown Radio and John Daly when a policeman told them the Duke of Edinburgh’s arrival was imminent.
“I asked if I could speak to him and the policeman said that was no problem, so as soon as Prince Philip came through the door I went straight over as May and asked him if he wanted something to eat.
“As soon as I put my hand out the policeman with him opened his coat and pulled his Uzi out.
“Someone took a picture over my shoulder and all you could see was my hat and Prince Philip’s face. He was loving it.”
At a meeting with Princess Anne in Belfast the pair discussed a portrait of John with an image of May in the background.
“She asked who was the scary one on my left shoulder and I explained that was me as well.”
But the most memorable royal moment was John’s visit to Buckingham Palace in 2007 when he was presented with an MBE for his charity work. He’s worked with international development charity Children in Crossfire for two decades.
The rule is that the recipient of the honour can bring three guests, but John was keen that none of his nearest and dearest should be left out and asked if he could bring wife Brenda, daughters Donna and Kerry and grandson Johnny.
“I said to a friend of mine could you not get four guests and then I got a phone call from Buckingham Palace.
“This man said, ‘I don’t know who you know or what you know but you have four guests coming on the day.’
“I explained it’s not about who you know or what you know, it’s about what you know about who you know.”
When John and the family arrived, he was taken aside, and an aide explained the procedure.
The Queen would take his hand, speak to him, and when she’d finished, she would push his hand away.
“She was unbelievable, a really lovely woman. She said I was getting this for the charity work I do and asked if I did that at home, so I told her I did cross-border stuff and I’d also been out in Africa with Children in Crossfire, and she told me to keep up the good work.
“I had asked the aide before we started if I should start the conversation,” says John.
“He said I didn’t need to worry about it because she’d done this before.”
John, 70, who’ll be appearing in Cinderella this year, says he was shocked to hear of the Queen’s death just days after she’d had meetings with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and new PM Liz Truss.
“It was the last thing you expected to hear. She worked right up until the end,” he says.