Thursday, 16 December 2010

Brushes with the rich and famous 1 – Royalty

During my career I have had the honour (sometimes dubious) of meeting the royals on a number of occasions. To be honest, all of these meeting have left an indelible mark in my mind, and on one occasion my buttocks, as I will explain. In fact I might as well explain that one first.

I was based in Zambia at the time they were hosting the Commonwealth conference which was to be opened by the queen. One of my jobs was to ‘look after’ the crew of the two giant Hercules cargo aircraft that fly out in advance with the Queen’s essential supplies. In those days (and possibly even now) everything the Queen uses, eats and drinks was all flown down in advance under considerable security by the UK armed forces.

The aircrews had a great time. Although Zambia is one of the most fertile countries in the world it was ravaged by shortages of even the most basic foods and almost everything had to be imported. Only problem was that it was almost impossible to arrange and here is where the crews used to come in. I would be prepared to wager that at least 25% of the aircraft payload consisted of cigarettes, apples, butter, oil and other such important staples. These were used to both sell and act as guaranteed invitation material to any party or event in the country during their stay. There was one expatriate lady who was famous for doing practically anything for a few sticks of celery

Anyway, the point behind this story is that I was allowed a sneak peek at the Queen’s ‘treasure trove’ of supplies and amongst it was two toilet seats. Apparently she always takes her own plus an aide that knows how to fit them on any type of toilet appliance. I am afraid I could not resist trying them . Out of respect to the monarchy I kept my trousers on but unfortunately my belt got stuck. I struggled and struggled until I popped out but for the next few weeks I had an indelible bruise to remind me of my heresy. Every time I see the Queen now I think of what we have in common!

Since that occasion I have had quite a few brushes with royalty including being studiously ignored by Prince Andrew, winked at by Diana, sworn at by Princess Anne and laughed at/with by Prince Harry but my most contentious was an altercation with Prince Philip. My wife still totally disagrees with me about this but I think his highness was totally out of order! After all he is known as a no nonsense, say what you like, approachable type of person. I wonder who you think was right.

We had been invited by Emirates Airline to attend a charity cricket match in the grounds of Windsor School between the airline and the Lords Taverners charity team. All the great and the good were due to attend the event and the guest of honour was to be Prince Philip (their next door neighbour). He swept into the ground and immediately worked the guests up into a frenzy of excitement by ‘chatting’ freely to all. He then headed off to his specially allotted seat and drank his usual bottles of brown beer. It was all very nice and a very English kind of event.

All went well until lunch. I was genuinely very honoured to find we had been put on the top table (of twelve place settings) just two seats away from the Prince with only Mike Gatting (the cricketer) and his charming wife between us. Prince Philip turned up last and then there was a rather long and embarrassing silence. Nobody was being introduced so I spoke up and told him who I and my wife were. It was as if I had thrown a hand grenade on the table. An audible gasp came from the Prince. He recoiled back and threw his hands in the air. His equerry finally appeared and manhandled me aside. “You NEVER speak to the Prince before being spoken to first” he muttered menacingly. “He will be in an awful mood now” he added. And so it was. Prince Philip sat down and would barely utter a word to anyone. Can this be the man who has made so many gaffes and unwise comment over the years I thought?

My wife reckons it was my fault. Do you? My view is that, in this modern world, politeness supersedes traditional etiquette. Needless to say that despite him being the husband of our Queen he will not be on my Christmas card list this year. Maybe someone told him about that toilet seat?

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