When the Queen of England gave her address to the nation last week in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Toronto-born, Edinburgh-based cartoonist Peter Chiykowski was watching in real time.
He’d been anxiously scrolling through his Twitter timeline hoping that if he got deep enough in it “maybe all the problems in the world would go away,” when he came across a live feed of the Queen’s speech.
As Chiykowski watched, he felt comforted by her message and grateful to watch a moment in history take place before his eyes. But as he got more invested in the address, he noticed that the framing of Her Majesty was quite remarkable.
“I was admiring the technology to get such a beautiful resolution and I thought ‘wow, this shot they set up and her green dress is perfect for photoshopping,’” he tells Yahoo Canada. “So the incorrigible prankster in me thought, let’s have some fun.”
He quickly put together some Photoshopped images of the Queen, superimposing a cat on tie-dye in place of her green dress, but with her pearls and brooch still exposed.
I, for one, would like to thank the Queen for making her royal address and providing the nation with something it sorely needs right now...— Peter Chiykowski, the unauthorized Queenscreener (@rockpapercynic) April 5, 2020
The perfect Photoshop bait... pic.twitter.com/dU0CIATWs1
Chiykowski posted it and then took a video call with a friend whom he had plans to share a scotch and catch up with online. When he checked on Twitter an hour and a half later, his post had been liked over 1,000 times, with hundreds of retweets. And thus, a meme was born.
“I realized something had been set in motion that could not be stopped,” he says.
Along with his own tweaks, which include swapping the Queen’s green dress with a pattern of a dog in sunglasses, an Iron Maiden t-shirt and a corgi eating an ice cream, Twitter users were eager to add their own flair to the meme.
A few of you said my queenscreen photoshops are disrespectful, and you're right.— Peter Chiykowski, the unauthorized Queenscreener (@rockpapercynic) April 5, 2020
The Queen is definitely a corgis > cats lady. pic.twitter.com/XmQI5jJ5Ao
Some interpretations included the Queen wearing a Star Trek uniform and a Queen (the band) t-shirt.
I hope you don't mind I made this as a way to check-in with my students this morning.... pic.twitter.com/UzOMv0Fglu— Tanya Roth (she/her) (@DrTanyaRoth) April 7, 2020
The meme became so popular, it even got a mention on John Oliver’s weekly program Last Week Tonight, which called it “inspirational to watch people collectively engage in stupidity in the face of such adversity.”
Chiykowski says the reaction to his meme has been overwhelmingly positive. He isn’t sure if there have been any particularly harsh responses since his mentions and inbox have been flooded, to the point that he’s unable to keep up. Early on, he received a reply from someone with a Maple Leaf in their Twitter avatar, who called his meme disrespectful. In turn, someone Photoshopped the critic’s tweet onto the Queen’s dress.
“I feel bad, I don’t think he meant to get dragged into this,” Chiykowski says.
He admits that going viral hasn’t led to more opportunities and has actually affected his workload, since he’s so distracted by the attention. Chiykowski says he doesn’t want to appear like he’s profiteering off a joke that was built off a well-meaning gesture from the Queen, which he felt was genuinely important and meaningful. That’s why at the end of his Twitter link chain, Chiykowski includes links to the Queen’s hospital charities.
I don't have a Soundcloud, but while you're here, consider donating to one of the numerous hospital charities the Queen is a patron of: https://t.co/9saD8LjOUR— Peter Chiykowski, the unauthorized Queenscreener (@rockpapercynic) April 5, 2020
It was wonderful of the Queen to make this speech. She has a lovely sense of humour and I think she'd appreciate these!
While Chiykowski was keen to share the news of his viral fame with his grandmother, he made sure to leave out some key details. After all, she’s a royalist.
“I told her I put a joke out on the internet and it’s been very popular,” he says.