The day dawned with the anticipation of a wedding day, and the nerves of a driving test. I think Mum and I were far more nervous than Dad who was soon to be face to face with Royalty. The three of us met Cathy Gilman, the former CEO of Bloodwise for a pre-ceremony breakfast. Cathy was one of the people who put Dad forward to be recognised for his achievements. Cathy and Dad have known each other since 1999 when Cathy joined Bloodwise (previously Leukaemia Research Fund) as a volunteer.
After changing into our ‘Palace’ clothes and posing for some photographs, it was time to travel the short distance to Buckingham Palace. Fortunately we had allowed ourselves plenty of time as the London traffic was typically at a standstill. We stepped out of the car, on schedule right outside Buckingham Palace, amongst the tourists who were, I’m sure, wondering what was going on. It was a beautiful sunny morning with a slight breeze just enough to ruffle the feathers of the gathered flock of fascinators.
We were greeted at the gate by an intimidating Metropolitan police officer who was equipped with all the weaponry required to keep Royalty safe in this crazy world we live in today. Underneath all of that he was extremely friendly and congratulated Dad wishing us a good morning. Following the path through the main façade of the Palace, Mum, Cathy and I tiptoed through the gravel in fear of damaging our heels. We found ourselves in the inner Quadrant with other award recipients and their guests. I have to say that all staff that met us were extremely friendly and helpful putting us all at ease – the nerves simply fell away.
Inside the Palace we were directed to the cloakroom to surrender cameras and phones and following a quick pit-stop met Dad in the corridor; a sea of plush red carpet and ornate chandeliers, with huge oil paintings on either side.
One final check of credentials and Dad was whisked off with other award recipients and us ladies were directed into the Ballroom to wait with the other guests.
Apparently the largest and grandest room in the Palace at more than 37 metres long and 18 metres wide the Ballroom’s inauguration was on June 17, 1856, which incidentally, was my brother’s birthday (not the 1856 bit!) He would have loved that.
We sat facing the throne dais – two thrones in fact, used for the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The thrones stood very grandly under a canopy of crimson velvet. At the opposite end of the Ballroom was the musicians’ gallery which was occupied by the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra playing ‘Corps of Army Music’.
King Henry VII created the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard in 1485 making them the oldest Royal Body Guard and oldest military corps still existing in the United Kingdom. Five members of this Body Guard entered the room with all the pomp and ceremony you would expect, and took their positions on the dais. Four Gentlemen Ushers were also on hand to assist with proceedings.
Now unfortunately HRH Her Majesty the Queen was otherwise engaged so duties were handed to her eldest, The Prince Of Wales, Prince Charles. He entered the room, we all stood for the playing of the National Anthem and on the first stroke of 11am, the ceremony began.
There were about 70 people being honoured ranging from police officers, Olympic rowers, people from the arts and theatre, the Commonwealth office, various communities and my Dad. Two people received Knighthoods, Sir Donald McCullin, veteran war photographer and Sir Ray Davies, lead singer of the Kinks.
With such a great military presence in the Ballroom, proceedings ran like clockwork. The recipients who were waiting in ordered fashion in a side room, came through into the Ballroom one at a time, standing in front of an usher, and it wasn’t until they heard their surname did they move in front of the dais and in front of the Prince of Wales. Finally, number 61, my Dad’s turn. I could feel my feathers plumping as a big grin fixed upon my face. And there he was, in his smart grey morning suit, arms down at his side, head held high with Prince Charles pinning the honour onto his left lapel. They exchanged words for a couple of minutes and Prince Charles grinned at something Dad had said. Later finding out that it was Dad’s response to HRH’s question of how much progress had been made and how much money had been raised. “Sir, how much time do you have” was Dad’s reply. Dad also told Charles that he knows his son’s death wasn’t in vain. Paul had been sitting right there on his shoulder for the thirty plus years that Dad had been dedicating his life to Bloodwise.
We’d been asked not to clap so I had to sit on my hands to stop that from happening. It was all over in a flash and we were soon once again outside in the Quadrant for photographs. It was a wonderful occasion and one of the proudest moments of my life. Dad you are an inspiration to so many. Paul would have been proud beyond belief of your achievements – I know he was once again sitting on your shoulder in that Ballroom.