A former council leader has paid tribute to the warmth and compassion of Queen Elizabeth, and recalled meeting the monarch to receive an OBE.

Councillor Heather Scott said the moment she met Queen Elizabeth was "the most special occasion of my life".

Long before she became Darlington Borough Council's first female leader, she met the Queen when she was awarded an OBE in 1989 for services to politics and the community.

Cllr Scott said: "She was very kind, she had a sense of humour and she was just very interested in people. When I met her that came across.

"It's brief because obviously you get awarded with an honour like that along with quite a lot of other people.

"She asks you why you've achieved the honour, speaks to you for a few minutes."

Read more: Queen's death - Updates live as Britain enters period of mourning

She said the Queen's keen interest in people shone through at their meeting: "You feel as though she's speaking to you personally. You don't feel as though you're just one of a crowd.

"She shakes hands with you, she speaks to you and just a gentle little push which puts you at ease and tells you it's time to move on to the next. It was very discreetly done but you know exactly what you're expected to do.

"My daughter had a bit of a cough and she was sat in the front row. The Queen looked across to her, with concern on her face as people do, just a glance across.

"I think she had a knack of putting people at ease and making them feel special.

"Obviously I was nervous but it was a special occasion. It was the most special occasion of my life."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Heather Scott. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Heather Scott. Picture: Sarah Caldecott. (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

She said people in Darlington reacted to news of the Queen's death with great shock and sadness: "They just couldn't believe it.

"Having seen her on television on Tuesday, it's just such a shock.

"She's been such a constant, people just expected her to go on forever.

"A couple of days ago although she looked frail she was smiling. She carried out her duties to the very last minute.

"She's had difficult family issues to deal with. But she's always put her duty as Queen first and I think that's just an amazing thing to be able to do. She was extremely resilient."

Read more: Full list of places you can sign a book of condolence in North East

She remembered as a child seeing the Queen getting married on a black and white television in 1947 and watching her coronation, this time in colour, in 1953.

"She always seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself wherever she went.

"I think will remember her for her smile in particular, and that interest in people.

"I think that's why she'd got the respect of different people of different ages, because of her warmth and her genuine interest in people.

"I think particularly children loved to see the Queen. Everybody wanted to see her and get as close to her as you possibly could."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Heather Scott. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Heather Scott. Picture: Sarah Caldecott. (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

Later, during her long career in local government, she saw the sovereign up close when she was invited to garden parties at Buckingham Palace in the 1980s.

She added: "I've been a royalist all my life.

"I was fortunate to be a couple of garden parties, one as mayor, one as a senior councillor. I've got extremely fond memories of her.

"She was just a wonderful woman and a passionate, compassionate human being. I think that warmth and compassion comes across in everything you see of her.

Read more: Darlington and Durham council leaders pay tribute

"She was like a mother, a grandmother and great-grandmother to the nation.

"I think the outpouring of grief that we've seen from all over the world just shows how respected she was worldwide.

"It's a very sad loss for us, but I think we just have to be thankful that she was there for such a long time. I think we were the better for it.

"She dedicated her life to the service of the country, and I think she's done that above and beyond what anybody else could."

Looking forward, Cllr Scott said: "I think obviously there will be some changes. Charles has had a long time to prepare for this.

"I think the future looks good."

Read next:

If you want to read more great stories, why not subscribe to your Northern Echo for as little as £1.25 a week. Click here.