For most people the national honours system is something of a mystery. Certainly for me it was a whole new learning experience. Out of the blue arrived a letter from 10 Downing Street informing me that I had been nominated for an award — would I accept? but I must keep it a secret.
In due course my name appeared along with others in the Queen’s birthday honours list: an MBE for services to conservation in Glastonbury. Several months later a letter from St James’s Palace invited me to an investiture on October 15 at Buckingham Palace. I am advised what to wear, that I can bring three guests (only) and that I must arrive between 10 and 10:30am, show my invitation letter, guests’ named tickets and car pass. We decided to travel by car, starting early to allow for the rush-hour crawl near London.
Security was tight outside the palace, with the car closely inspected before being allowed to park in the quadrangle. The guests were separated from recipients, who were directed through spacious halls and staircases to large rooms lined with the royal collection of paintings. All cameras and telephones have to be left at the cloakrooms.
Before long we were given a rehearsal of the investiture and put at ease. The Prince of Wales was to officiate, assisted by aides, marshals and guarded by gentlemen at arms (Beefeaters) and two Gurkha officers — a tradition dating back to Queen Victoria.
At 11am Prince Charles entered the State Ballroom and the investiture commenced. We were escorted in small groups placed in the right order to receive our awards. Those of us awaiting our turn could watch progress on television screens, so we were well rehearsed. I was 105th out of 120.
Prince Charles spoke to every recipient for around 45 seconds. He asked me if the festival caused problems in Glastonbury. I replied that it was actually held several miles down the road, but that some individuals did stay on longer on the Tor. He then hoped the award would encourage my efforts, shook hands — which is the cue to bow and depart — and then it was the next recipient’s turn.
All this time music was being played by a military orchestra in the gallery.
My lasting impression of the occasion is how well organized everything was, and how humbled I felt by the efforts of the other recipients in so many spheres — civil, military and overseas.