Up That London, (Part II) The Investiture Ceremony
Although I have to say that there can't be many hotels at which the proprietor himself holds an umbrella over the guest's head until she is in the car so that her outfit won't get wet.
I know everyone wants chapter and verse on what happened in the Palace but, given how very difficult it is to find any information about investiture ceremonies on the Interwebnet, I have a sneaking suspicion that the finer details are not intended to be discussed in the public domain.
Not wishing to incur the wrath of the monarch, therefore, I shall confine myself to a list of observations so that those of Lady Bracknell's readers who will one day attend such a ceremony on their own account will be well prepared.
- As the individual being honoured, you get to choose up to three guests. Once you have informed the Palace of your guests' identities, you will be sent formal invitations for them. Without these invitations, your guests will not be able to gain entrance. Unless all four of you are arriving together, therefore, it is a Very Bad Idea Indeed for you to still have all the invitations in your handbag as you approach the Palace. (I was nervous about entrusting the invitations to the Royal Mail, but I should have bitten the bullet and sent them recorded delivery.) We sorted it out in the end, but only after several frantic calls on mobiles and much handing of invitations out of the car window.
- When the two very burly policeman ask you to open the boot and the bonnet of your car, expect their eyes to light up when your driver responds, "Well, you're welcome to look in the boot...". Of course, Algernon did go on to say, "... and if you can work out how to open the bonnet, be my guest", or words to that effect, but there was a split second when we could see in their eyes that they thought that was where we'd stashed the Uzi.
- Visit the royal conveniences whether you need to or not: it's an education.
- If a friend who is not one of your official guests drives you into the inner courtyard, he or she will have to remain there until the ceremony is over. (From the conversation I had with someone from the Chancery earlier in the week, I gather this enforced inactivity is expected to be regarded as something of a privilege rather than as two hours of excruciating tedium.) Algernon kept himself amused by taking photographs of his car in the exclusive surroundings, which he will use at a later date when he comes to sell it. Cunning, no?
- If, when deciding on Your Outfit, you decide to go down the route of using a personal shopper from a major chain store, don't be surprised if all that store's personal shoppers across the country have made the same recommendation. The two ladies in identical hats and jackets wore themselves to a frazz keeping as large a distance as possible between one another in the holding area (sorry, "Picture Gallery"). To my immense disappointment (hey, I never said I was a nice person), their names weren't alphabetically adjacent, so there was no real danger of Prince Charles saying, "Hold on a tick: haven't I just done you?" to the second one.
- It really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone to learn that they will be expected to bow or curtsey to whichever member of the royal family is investing them with their honour. But it clearly did. I was disappointed in one of my fellow crips who segued seamlessly into Massive Panic Mode immediately after hearing this news. "But I don't think I can curtsey properly!!". "No, neither can I. But I have no intention of injuring myself by attempting to. I'll do what I can, and that'll have to be sufficient.".
- Once the ceremony has begun, live footage from it is relayed into the holding area (sorry, "Picture Gallery"). If, on account of being a crip, you are resting with the other crips on an upholstered bench, don't expect to be able to actually see any of this footage. Apparently, even people who have done sufficient good works to merit being honoured by the Queen aren't considerate enough to make sure that their crippy cohorts are included in the full experience. Perhaps they assumed we could stand up if we were really that bothered. Selfish gits.
- At some point during your forced march through various corridors lined with priceless old masters, a footman will relieve you of your handbag. Don't say, "I don't think that colour suits you", or you will spend the next ten minutes consumed by the horrible realisation that every woman from whom he has ever taken a handbag will have made exactly the same lame joke.
- The whole process is an incredibly well-oiled machine. The only time you are on your own is when you walk to the dais to receive your medal. Unless you consider members of the royal family to be semi-divine, this part is really nothing to worry about. The royals are used to putting people at their ease and - assuming the Queen would be equally as charming as Prince Charles was to me - it will be a pleasant, if brief, experience. The members of the royal household are, without exception, friendly and pleased for you. They are committed to ensuring that the whole process is as painless as possible.
- Once out of the ballroom, you are ushered into a further corridor and a delightful gentleman relieves you of your medal temporarily to pack it into its box. You then retrieve your handbag and are ushered by a succession of splendidly-uniformed flunkeys back into the ballroom where you sit on a hideously uncomfortable chair and watch the rest of the ceremony, safe in the knowledge that your part is over.
And now we come to the best bit. Just prior to my entering the ballroom itself, a very nice lady official said, "I don't think you'll want us to do this, but we can take your stick away from you if you'd rather not be carrying it while you're being invested. A lot of people prefer that.".
My response was something along the lines of, "Take my stick away from me? Absolutely not! My entire outfit was designed around my stick!".
To which she replied, "I can see that. It's beautiful. That's the trendiest stick I've seen in seven years of investiture ceremonies.".
So I hope Steve the Stick Man is reading this. Because there can't be many manufacturers of glorious walking sticks who have received that level of praise from a member of the Buckingham Palace staff. I'm only sorry Prince Charles didn't comment on it, but I suppose you can't have everything...