I always wish my grandparents were still alive when I visit Buckingham Palace. I know that my Gran would have been so impressed that I was going to see the Queen. The fact that I was simply playing in the orchestra whilst it was actually Simon Halsey who was being awarded the Queens Medal for Music would be a minor detail - by the time she’d told everyone, my 30 minute performance would most likely have been upgraded to a knighthood in the village. Still, without wishing to boast, I have had several brushes with royalty. It’s very interesting watching how people think they are going to react upon meeting the Queen and the way they actually react. Some people get terribly republican and mutter about not believing in the the system and so on. In my experience, when faced with royalty, they usually end up performing the most extravagant bow in the line up. I don’t know if it’s nerves, but I always seem to end up making a joke at an inappropriate moment.
A few years ago, we performed in Buckingham Palace to celebrate the birthday of Slava Rostropovitch. He had taught Prince Charles the cello for a while and so he very kindly organised a concert and a reception afterwards where we commoners mingled amongst royalty. I had a brief chat with him about architecture naturally and had a very fancy time. A few months later I found myself at Windsor Castle performing with the band, Prince Charles once again in attendance. After the show we again mingled and all of a sudden, former MD, Clive Gillinson appeared, guiding the Prince around and introducing him to important people from the orchestra. After he’d run out of them, he found himself with the Prince facing me, with nobody else to talk to. With such limited options, a conversation was inevitable.
“May I introduce Gareth Davies, our Principal Flute.”
“Very nice to meet you Gareth.”
“It’s nice to meet you too sir...Actually we have met before.”
“Have we really? Forgive me, I do meet an awful lot of people.”
“It was at the concert you gave for Slava at the Palace? We chatted about architecture afterwards?”
“Ah yes, a wonderful evening!”
“Yes sir it was. I have to say though, I am a little embarrassed.”
“Oh? Why so?”
“Well this is the second time I’ve come to your place. You must come to mine next time.”
He laughed but the future Sir Clive quickly moved on to somebody more sensible.
I made a mental note to next time just doing the normal thing and not treat them like normal people.
Yesterday evening I behaved impeccably and had a right royal time. Unfortunately, soloist Yuja Wang unintentionally broke protocol at the end of her piece by tripping over going down the specially erected stairs. There was a gasp as she picked herself up afterwards. If you do fall over in front of an audience, it’s always embarrassing, but when The Queen is a few feet away, it makes it even worse, so I’m sure by the time the line up came after the show, she had been given lots of advice. Just pretend it never happened...don’t joke about it...she probably didn’t notice...just don’t treat them like normal people and you’ll be fine. The Queen made her way down the line of dignitaries and was introduced to Yuja. She immediately asked if she had recovered and Yuja explained that she had lost her shoe.
“Well that was awful!” replied the Queen, “Rather like that woman who fell off the stage the other day.”
Yuja smiled and the line up continued, so many questions hanging in the air, unspoken.
On another occasion a few years ago, I found myself again in the Palace determined this time not to say anything silly. Due to high security, once you get inside the grounds, you can’t go out until you’ve finished. This meant that after the rehearsal, we all had to wait in a big room where refreshments were provided. It seemed to be where lots of spare rugs and broken bits of furniture were kept. I was delighted to see in the corner, a throne where one of the arms had become detached and was awaiting an appointment with the royal repairer. The refreshments arrived and we were given the option of vegetarian sandwiches or chicken. I had chicken. But this wasn’t ordinary chicken, this was a Coronation chicken sandwich. Now somebody there has a sense of humour.
Unlike yesterday, where we had to give up all phones, cameras and other ways of contacting the outside world, a few years ago I still had my mobile phone in my pocket. My brain began to spin at the perfect storm of possibilities. I picked up my Coronation Chicken sandwich, walked across the room, sat down on the throne, took my phone out and dialed.
“Hi mum! You’re never going to guess where I am…”
I was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder from a very large man with an earpiece, a don’t mess with me stare and a bulge in his pocket. He wasn’t just pleased to see me. He leaned in towards my ear,
“Get off the throne sonny…”
“Mum? I’ve got to go.”
It may be some time before I get upgraded.
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