My Day At Buckingham Palace

Waking up on the morning of Friday 16 June 2017 in London was a feeling like no other – anticipation, excitement and nervousness enveloped with thoughts of – is this really happening or is it a dream? It was the day of my Investiture at Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for services to British music in Japan. The sun was shining, a light breeze, expecting a top of 20 degrees. Perfect for what was to come.

The pink invitation said entry at the Palace from 10 o’clock AM for an 11 o’clock start. My mother and my partner were my invited guests for the ceremony. Up early, we all dressed, me in a brand spanking new three-piece suit, with its secret guilty pleasure of a gray silk lining with motifs of the iconic London skyline including St Paul’s Cathedral. And running between rooms to help each other. A cufflink here, a zip there, a sweep of a clothes brush. A final check, all done, a group hug and ready to go.

Seven months after receiving the news of the honour via a phone call from then British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens this really was happening. I made a pact with myself to relax, enjoy the day, remember as many tiny details as I could and just be in the moment. In fact Ambassador Hitchens gave me the best advice “Be authentic”.

The invitation also included a Buckingham Palace parking pass and Jaguar very generously loaned me a motorcar for the occasion. We drove through the London traffic and down the Mall. The Royal Standard was flying over Buckingham Palace. The Queen is in! But would she be hosting the Investiture? No one is ever told until the start of proceedings on the day.

I drove to the assigned gate – Central South, on the left as you face the Palace. Guided by the police, who were genuinely welcoming, said “Good morning Sir” and congratulated me on the honour, we drove at walking pace through the crowds of tourists waiting for Changing the Guard, their cameras clicking and peering through the car windows to see if it was a member of the Royal family arriving. I’m sorry to have disappointed them. But my mum, who has often been told she looks a bit like the Queen, was a passenger looking quite regal, so we giggled that maybe we had just made someone’s day! I have to admit driving a smart motorcar through the gates of Buckingham Palace with hundreds of people taking photos of you is quite a feeling. After security checks we parked in the inner quadrangle.

Other honour recipients and their guests, all dressed for the day were also arriving as we entered the Palace foyer. Everyone sparkling, some perhaps not feeling comfortable. “Be authentic” I reminded myself. My first impression continued throughout the morning – big ornate rooms with thick red carpets and huge paintings in gold frames, the luxurious aromas of polished furniture and perfumed guests. I wasn’t expecting the mood to be somber but surprisingly there was a very festive atmosphere with everyone chatting, laughing and introducing themselves to each other. The Palace staff were incredibly friendly and also genuinely welcoming, putting everyone at ease throughout the process. And it became apparent quickly that this is a very well-oiled machine.

As requested we checked our mobile phones and cameras into the cloakroom (no photos to be taken inside the Palace) and then walked up the grand staircase. Life Guards of the Household Cavalry, very young men in their uniforms of red and gold splendour lined the stairs not moving a muscle. Honour recipients were directed to reception rooms for the Investiture briefing and our guests were guided to the Ballroom to be seated.

In the MBE reception room we were offered apple juice and mineral water served in elegant glasses etched with ER. A couple of us quipped that these would make nice “souvenirs”. We mingled and chatted with our fellow recipients sharing stories of what we were being honoured for. I met Gillian Smith a delightful lady from Suffolk who has worked for decades with the Girl Guides. She is from Framlingham, the same town as Ed Sheeran (who I have interviewed and she has met) and the boarding school my father attended, so we found some common ground for conversation. It is interesting to observe how quickly people find their tribes in these situations.

At 10:45am we were briefed and told today’s Investiture would be hosted by HRH Prince Charles. We would remain in this reception room until it is our turn to be received. We can watch the proceedings on the large TV monitors. We will then be escorted to the Ballroom, our name will be called, we walk up to the Prince of Wales, gentlemen bow, ladies curtsy, there will be a little private conversation with him as he hooks our medal onto a clip that will be fastened to our lapel just before we enter the Ballroom. We address the Prince as Your Royal Highness once and thereafter as Sir. When he shakes your hand it is the signal that your time is up, take three steps back, bow or curtsy once again and head off to the right. Everyone in the room murmured “Will I remember all of that?” A few of the ladies rehearsed their moves. One lady’s hat fell off.

Over the years I have witnessed many shows backstage and this was very similar. We had the performers, the script, the costumes, choreographed moves, spectacular sets, an audience and pre-show nerves. We even had the music with a small orchestra on the balcony at the back of the Ballroom playing classical and popular tunes softly throughout the ceremony. I heard the Skyfall theme at one point. A James Bond moment in Buckingham Palace, now that was quite cool! I even heard a tune from West Side Story which was a delightful coincidence as I was going to the Broadway cast show on my return to Japan after this UK trip and had recently been listening to the soundtrack repeatedly.

On the dot of 11am the music stopped, everyone in the Ballroom stood and Prince Charles entered escorted by two Gurkha Officers. He took his place on the dais with five Yeoman of the Guard Officers and the orchestra played God Save the Queen. This was followed by one minute’s silence to honour the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire which happened three days prior. The Queen and Prince William were visiting those affected as this Investiture took place.

Everyone was gestured to sit and the day’s 96 recipients started flowing through. People receiving honours included percussionist Evelyn Glennie who has been deaf since the age of twelve and has taught herself to sense music through her body; race driver Suzanne Wolff one of the only women to have competed in F1; and hockey player Giselle Ansley an Olympic gold medalist. We all waited quietly as we watched, wondering what Prince Charles might ask us. This part we did not have a script for.

Then it was my turn. This is the moment. My heart pounded. I rehearsed it all one more time in my head. I was escorted down a corridor to a smaller reception room and the clip for the medal was attached to my suit lapel, then moved to a spot in the wings of the front of the Ballroom. And there was the Prince of Wales just a few steps away. My few steps away. My name was called, I walked, turned, faced the Prince, bowed and stepped up to him. He smiled and immediately started to talk in a very soft, gentle voice. I had to lean in to hear him clearly. He complimented me on my work. He said how wonderful it must be living and broadcasting in Japan. I agreed. I cheekily told him I had DJ’d for his son the Duke of Cambridge a couple of years ago in Tokyo. He looked a little concerned for a moment. I added that it was not cause for scandal but at a reception at the British Embassy. He laughed. The conversation felt genuine and authentic. There was a bit more banter, he congratulated me and shook my hand. I said thank you Sir, took my three steps back, we locked eyes for a moment (I wonder what he was thinking), I bowed, turned right and walked away.

My head was swimming. I was “off stage” in another room where the medal was unclipped and placed inside its handsome case. The tending staff shook my hand and congratulated me again. And then suddenly all of the emotion, anticipation, nerves, thoughts of my family and the meaning of all of this caught up with me and I promptly shed tears. The staff were amazing and let me have my moment in private, they said it happens to a lot of people. I composed myself, was taken to my seat in the Ballroom with the other recipients, saw my Mum and my partner up on the left, they were beaming smiles. I could now just sit, take it all in and enjoy.

The Investiture lasted about another 20 minutes, and then everyone was done. We all stood and Prince Charles was escorted by the Gurkhas out of the Ballroom. Recipients met up with their guests and it was hugs, chat, laughter and tears all around the room.

The festive spirit continued as we made our way back to the entrance foyer. Walking down the grand staircase my Mum made a flirty compliment to one of the silent standing Household Cavalry “I may not be allowed to tell you this but you look beautiful”. He blushed.

Back in the foyer we gathered our goods from the cloakroom and used the restrooms. Mum came back with a gold Buckingham Palace carry bag. Apparently only the ladies restrooms have these. I placed my MBE medal case and the Investiture program in the bag – tangible mementos from a fantastical experience. In fact these bags became a secret form of identification when later in the day walking through Hyde Park I spotted a well dressed couple holding the same bag. They spotted mine, we had a laugh, introduced ourselves and shared more moments from our very special day at Buckingham Palace.

The Investiture concluded in the quadrangle for the official photos. It was once again a “back stage” revelation seeing how and where these familiar images of people smiling with their Order of the British Empire medals are created. I met the daughters of Gillian Smith and we took snaps with our mobile phones not wanting to forget the fun time we had and the people we met.

Driving back out through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet my sisters for a celebratory lunch were once again the crowds of tourists looking and clicking cameras. And again it was not a member of the Royal family in the car, but this time it was a proud man who had just shaken the hand of the future King of England.

Reflecting on the day I can say it really was authentic and Mum noted it was also mysterious.

Leave a Reply