THE ROYALS AND ME

When the invitation for a tea at the Hospice I support arrived, I noted the date and time and also that a Royal Princess would be attending and registered this as Princess Anne. Checking her details on the Internet raised some memories about previous episodes in my life where I had been in some sort of impersonal contact with members of the Royal Family.

The first time I really became aware of their existence was in 1935 at the age of 10. A neighbour had invited me to take the place of one of his children to view the parade to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the reigning monarch, King George V and his Consort Queen Mary. My friend Alan was sick and so I took his place with his sister, Margaret who was my age.

It was exciting being in London on that day in May, secure in VIP seating along Constitution Hill amongst the crowds who sang as they waited and then the appearance of the open coach with the King and Queen and the walking attendants in their colourful costumes. The King wore his naval uniform and the Queen had a great turban-like head-dress. Following them came all the pageantry that the countries forming the Empire at its height could muster. Cavalry and foot-soldiers from distant lands, bands and the carriages of the rulers and governors of these lands in a seemingly endless progression past my wondering eyes.

Sixteen years later I had returned to the UK from my first civilian job abroad when the news was announced that King George Vl had died. As I walked near Parliament Square a long queue stretched out from Westminster Hall where he was lying in State.  ‘This is the son of the King I saw as a 12 year old boy,’ I told myself and felt compelled to join the queue to pay my respects to the wartime King I had sworn allegiance to when I joined the Royal Air Force.

It took some time before my section of the moving queue reached the interior of the body of the Hall and I was able to observe the casket on the raised plinth with the four Royal Household Guards immobile, one at each corner remote in the wide space separating this centre piece from the tasselled borders confining the slowly moving people to the outer walls – up one side then across to the opposite side and the exit. And all the time the hush of muted silence.

The following year and now a married man I went with a group to London to celebrate the Coronation of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth 11 on 2nd June 1953. Because there were already dense crowds camping out along the Mall when we arrived the day before, we found a pitch under Admiralty Arch and settled down for the long wait. Fortunately our covered spot protected us fron the light rain that fell all through the night. But the rain did not deter the high spirits of the waiting crowds in the open who sang cheerfully until the early hours and then settled down under their waterproofs or umbrellas. Like her grandfather’s Jubilee  eighteen years earlier, this parade had an Imperial setting with representation from around the world from the Commonwealth and World War 11 allies. The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip in the Golden Coronation Coach moving from Buckingham Palace  amidst the many other coaches, marching troops and jangling cavalry on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral and passing within a few feet of our vantage point. The community singing continued non-stop until the full parade returned after the Coronation amidst the same tumultuous cheering that had accompanied the Royal Couple on their outwards journey.

Moving on fifteen more years and Ursula and I now  with three children and  living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There was a State visit to that country from Queen Elizabeth 11 and her Consort Prince Philip and a reception was held for them by the British Community  at the English School. Carrying our invitations  we went along dressed up for the occasion. The organisers had arranged a lay-out of great simplicity but still quite complex in the School grounds. This being Brazil, the weather could be relied on. A walk-way with carpet runners in a square with one side open. The three sides had a transparent covering as protection from the sun. At the head of the open side, set back some way was a low platform for the Community leaders and for the Queen to make her speech. On one side of this was a band and a childrens’ enclosure on the other. Old or handicapped people sat in front of the platform. Guides and Scouts acted as escorts to get us to our colour-coded locations. It was British organisation at its best. Ursula and I were led to stand on one side of the square while the children were taken to their enclosure by the platform.

There was a hum of talk while the band played popular music and stewards took up positions lining the walk-way as the Royal couple arrived and the Queen, after being greeted with Prince Philip, was led to the far side to start walking alone anti-clock-wise while Prince Philip began his walking on our side walking clock-wise. They crossed one another  along the third side and continued where the other had already passed so ensuring they both saw and were seen by everyone. Then there were the people sitting, the children and finally the officials on the platform. Each one of the two visitors stopped and spoke with individuals, seemingly at random. There followed a short speech by the Queen, champagne poured into paper cups for a toast and with the singing of God Save the Queen and three cheers the Royal couple moved to their waiting open car. An excited Julie was telling us that Prince Philip had spoken with her and everywhere impressions were being exchanged.

Forty five years from the Sao Paulo event Linie, Pat and I were on our way to Buckingham Palace. Linie to receive her award of a CBE while Pat and I as her proud invitees. With Pat and I settled in our seats facing the rostrum Prince William entered from the right with an escort of two Gurkha guards and prepared himself for the investiture. We saw Linie coming centre stage from a wing on the left and noted that, as she received her award, she engaged William in some lively conversation.

And now back to the present of December 2015 at the tea where I was fortunate to sit with two charming ladies and enjoy lively conversation  as we made our way through a very tasty tea. Espying an elderly lady starting to go the rounds of the tables I exclaimed, ‘That’s not Princess Anne.’ My companions quickly put me right, ‘It’s Princess Alexandra,’ they explained, almost together. A little disappointed as I had hoped to add a fifth generation of Royals of my previous experiences of the four generations. But Princess Alexandra was very charming as she arrived at our table and chatted.

Back home I examined the invitation to find I had mis-read the name of the Princess but there was some consolation. A check showed that she was the daughter of the Princess Marina, a Belgium Princess who had married the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Kent and I had a boyhood recollection of this lady. On my way home from  my school in Bromley  about 1937 I saw a crowd gathered outside the then Bromley Hospital. An open car drew up and this elegant lady stepped out to applause. I was told by a bye-stander she was Princess Marina come to open a new ward at the hospital. If I had known beforehand I might have told Princess Alexandra when she came to our tea table. But, perhaps not.

 

DECEMBER 2015