I’m no Royalist and I often wonder what I’d do if offered a gong. On the one hand I want to reject all that old-fashioned, empirical, class-preserving nonsense. On the other hand it looks good on the C.V. However, at least I know what I’d do if invited to meet the Queen at her place. I’d go like sycophantic toady I am. Well, it was Bucket List stuff really. How could I refuse the opportunity to tick that box?
It was 2005 and the Year of the Volunteer. Toc H put my name forward as one of two representatives of the organisation at a Reception at Buckingham Palace in November to celebrate volunteering. I would also be taking Laura Simms, the daughter of an old friend of mine who had grown up volunteering with Toc H.
I think the thing that most excited me was that we had permission to drive into the Palace and park there. You know what London parking is like and I hate public transport. So having collected Laura from Kent we drove into the heart of our capital and joined the short queue to get through the gates. A few soldiers had a quick look under the car with the giant dental mirror but all-in-all I have had considerably more thorough inspections going through customs at Dover and we pulled up to park right in the centre quadrangle. It was lightly raining but there was no flunkey waiting for us with an umbrella. British hospitality is not what it used to be.
We went inside and followed the signs to the Long Gallery where the Reception was being held. It was suitably formal occasion and amongst the crowd of volunteers and related peoples were the odd celebrity. The Revd. Ian Paisley was the first I spotted. He was sat under a 20 foot high portrait of some or other royal. He looked a little red-faced and I wondered if he had been preaching fire and brimstone already. Then I figured he had just come up the stairs to the gallery and was still catching his breath. The nation’s favourite agony aunt Denise Robertson was also there. I could just imagine the Queen sidling up to her and asking to talk about her dysfunctional family. “One’s eldest son is particularly troublesome…..”
Anyway, celebrity spotting aside, Laura and I explored the gallery. Lots of old paintings, not really my cup of tea. No entertainment. Surely HM could have coughed up a few bob for some street entertainers. A little close-up magic? Fire-eaters on the grand staircase?
There were little tubs of food set about the place. However as Laura scooped a handful of nuts or some other delicacy in to her mouth I casually asked her if she was enjoying the Corgi treats the Queen left around. That was some of the most discrete sicking up in a napkin I have ever seen Laura!
Eventually we got to the formal part of the afternoon. We were all herded into a long line snaking up and down the Long Gallery and the Royals were paraded in. The Queen and Philip were the main course and I think Ann may have been floating about. I truly don’t remember. How terribly Republican of me.
The Royal Party is then taken up and down the line for their obligatory 2.2 seconds with every guest. Inevitably, at some point they are talking to the people in the next line over to you and have their backs to you. It was at this point that Prince Phillip elbowed me in the ribs. I kid you not. A short little jab with the elbow, direct to the sternum. Well it may be how you get the peasants out of the way on the Christmas morning rush to the sherry in Sandringham church, or maybe you were taught this tactic at Carriage Diving lessons but it cuts no mustard with me. Apologise you cad!
Well he did actually. Turned around and looked at me and muttered “so sorry” or something similar under his breathe. Good job he did or their might have been another interregnum whilst I installed a new Commonwealth.
Soon after they got to the end of the row and came down our side. We talked briefly about Toc H when she got to me. Her mum was Patron for many years and Tubby was her personal Chaplain. Phillip didn’t mention the earlier incident. I decided not to bring it up.
And that was pretty much that. I had to stop and grab some photos of Laura with some bloke out of Coronation Street who I had never heard of. I’d like also to say that Liz popped out for a relaxed set of photos with me before I left but that was just me playing with Photoshop.
There’s a standing invitation out for Liz and Phil to pop round ours at Christmas. After all they are only 40 minutes away (Well depends who’s driving I suppose) but I won’t hold my breath. You reach a certain time in life when you’d rather be tucked up in front of a roaring fire than out visiting your subjects – especial the irreverent ones like me!