You’ll have noticed that I don’t often blog on personal subjects these days, preferring instead to focus on my three pet topics of Adventure, Inspiration, and Environment, but I think you’ll want to hear about this.
Yesterday I went with my mother, sister, and partner Howard, to Buckingham Palace to collect my MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire.) The award itself was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June, but it was only about six weeks ago that I’d received the notification of the date of my investiture – giving me plenty of time to panic about what to wear.
The notification arrived with lots of detailed information, and an enormous certificate in copperplate handwriting, signed by Her Majesty, but no hint as to who might be conducting the investiture ceremony. It could be the Queen herself, or one of her two elder children – Prince Charles or Princess Anne. Or we’d heard that recently the mantle had once been passed to Prince William (the young good looking heir to the throne who recently had a baby with his beautiful wife Kate, just in case you have been living under a rock and weren’t aware.)
As our taxi pulled into the graveled forecourt of Buckingham Palace yesterday at 10am, we speculated that the Royal Family might have a friendly competition to choose who got to do the ceremony. “Last one out of the Palace gets to hand out gongs!”
I didn’t really mind who did it. The Queen is a living legend, I admire Prince Charles’s environmental credentials, and Princess Anne is a formidable woman. Or to meet the young heir would be very cool too.
As my companions were steered away into the Ballroom, I joined the other recipients-to-be in a grand room lined from floor to ceiling in priceless works of art. We chatted in a cocktail party kind of way, and I found myself mingling with army officers, medical researchers, charity workers, and a retired badminton player, amongst others. We were briefed on investiture etiquette, and then the first batch of a dozen or so recipients were called by name and herded off towards the Ballroom. We watched on a closed circuit TV screen as the music started up, and onto the stage walked….. Prince William, looking very smart in his military uniform.
More batches departed. Numbers in the waiting room dwindled. My new shoes were killing me. And I had never been so nervous.
Now, this is strange. I would like to think that I am not easily daunted. I’ve rowed across oceans. I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people. I’ve been on TV and radio. And yet, here I was, about to do something NICE, something that was an HONOUR, a real PRIVILEGE, and I was a complete mess. I had butterflies in my stomach, and cold, sweating palms.
At last my name was called, and I took my place in the penultimate batch. We were led through several magnificent staterooms, all gilt and gold and oil paintings, until we reached the side chamber of the Ballroom. As we edged forward, at last I could see Howard, my mother and sister Tanya sitting in the third row of the audience. We smiled and covertly waved.
My collywobbles got worse. My toes had gone numb – due either to nerves or the high heels. I tried breathing exercises, but they didn’t help.
The orchestra music coming from the minstrel’s gallery changed – to I Dreamed A Dream, one of my favourite songs. Last time I’d heard it was in the movie of Les Miserables, and I had cried uncontrollably. This time, fortunately, I managed to hold it together, in fact the sweet melody relaxed me somewhat as I came to the front of the line waiting in the wings.
“Off you go,” whispered the Palace official, and suddenly I was walking forwards, desperately trying to sashay rather than stumble on my stilettoes. I paused where I was supposed to pause, waiting for my name to be called.
“Miss Rosalind Savage”
Walk forwards. Turn. Curtsey. Approach the dais. OMG, I’m meeting Prince William!
“I hear you’ve rowed the Atlantic,” he said.
Completely forgetting our instructions (“Your Royal Highness” when you first address him, “Sir” thereafter) I said, “and the Pacific, and the Atlantic.” He raised his eyebrows – hopefully because he was surprised by my rowing achievements, rather than by my breach of protocol.
“Do you know my friend Oliver Hicks?” he asked.
It was like that moment when you’re getting to know someone and you find you have a good friend in common. I felt myself exhale and relax, and a smile spread across my face.
“Of course!” I beamed. We spoke for a couple of minutes about Ollie’s brave bid to row around Antarctica – one attempt ended prematurely in 2009 – and his hopes of trying again.
“Do you think it’s even possible?” Wills (as I liked to think of him by now) asked.
In retrospect, I wish I’d said something Churchill-esque and noteworthy, like, “The only way of knowing what is possible, is to do it.” But instead I just said, “I hope so, for his sake.” Oh yes, very impressive, Roz.
Then he said “Congratulations” again and shook my hand, which was my cue to depart. I’d relaxed so much during our conversation that I came perilously close to forgetting I had to back away from His Majesty. I started to turn, remembered, turned back, and took the requisite few steps backwards (no easy task in 5 inch heels), curtseyed, and exited without further mishap.
I was ushered around to sit with the other recipients while we watched the last few get their medals, and then it was all over, bar the photographs.
Overall, it was a marvelous experience, and probably more enjoyable in the remembering than in the nervous, sweaty-palmed experience. I’m now delighted that it was Prince William conducting the investiture (somehow doubt he would fail to beat the Queen in a race to leave the palace, although it’s an amusing image! It is a real tribute to his charm and informality that I completely forgot to be nervous, and even forgot my royal manners.
There only remains the very important task of thanking all of you who have supported me over the years, including of course my amazing and long-suffering mother. It was wonderful to have her, my sister and partner there to share my big day with me. I just wish all of you could have been there too.
Today’s Feature by Mission Blue Partner and Ocean Rowing Legend, Roz Savage.
Feature Photo (c) National Geographic