Going to your own investiture at Buckingham Palace is an extraordinary privilege. All the time you feel as if in a dream. It’s better than a wedding, banquet or an exceptional visit to the opera – although there are operatic elements to the whole thing. The Palatial surroundings; paintings, silken upholstery, soldiers and Beefeaters in high dress uniforms and theatrical precision to everything. For example, the wind and string ensemble in the gallery of the ballroom playing Mozart, Jerry Bock, Vaughan Williams and American spirituals all in heightened and delicate arrangements.
In November I received a letter asking if I would agree to accept an OBE. I had no idea who had nominated me but have since put two and two together on who the key activist was. As far as the first letter is concerned, if you were of a cynical bent, you might think it a spoof. Ordinary paper, a standard format with a tick-box reply form and a prepaid envelope. I confirmed that I would like to accept the honour for my work in the Arts, Education and Charity while thinking of all the wonderful and empowering people I have known and who have allowed me blossom, grow and enjoy my professional life.
Then on 31 December my name was included in the London Gazette and online, confirming that the letter was not a spoof. As my birthday is on 1 January, this was quite a New Year’s Honour.
The 21 March came into sharp focus in a cab five minutes from the Palace when one of my group announced that he had forgotten his photo ID to be allowed in. We met a pair of very jolly policemen at the gate who said that it was no problem at all as long as I was prepared to vouch for the forgetful guest.
Everyone at the Palace is so very kind, respectful, polite, reassuring and pleased that you’re there. All the other recipients are on top form too. Communicative, smiling, beautifully turned out (men and women) and, in a way, overwhelmed.
The Prince of Wales leant towards me and asked about our work at Help Musicians UK adding that it is vital and important work. He has the ability to make you feel that you and he are the only people in the room and that you have his full attention. Before approaching the Prince we had been schooled on bowing and approaching HRH, how to address him and how to walk backwards completing the encounter with another bow.
Then, on the way to the back of the ballroom to wait while others were invested, I noticed I was wearing the OBE medal. The Prince had attached it to the lapel of my morning coat and I hadn’t even noticed.