When I got to the last paragraph it insisted that the content had to be kept secret until embargoes were lifted for official press announcements on New Years Day. Tearful and shaking, I went into the lounge where my wife was watching the news. After 30 years of marriage she knew instantly something was the matter. I asked her “Can you keep a secret?” to which she replied “Don’t be silly, I’m a woman!” So I turned as if not to tell her, then she saw the letter and guessed. We were both extremely emotional and cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate discreetly.
As this was a once in a lifetime experience we decided to make an event of it. My wife, my daughter and her partner and myself had so much luggage we had to travel by train, as it would not fit in the car! The day before the official ceremony we had tea at the House of Commons with Graham Brady, MP for Sale West and Altrincham, and Shadow Minister for Europe. We then watched a live debate from the Stranger’s Gallery. The investiture took place on a glorious day in June with the temperature in the nineties. I was dressed in full frock coat with tails and my wife had the most enormous hat! Weeks had been spent searching for the perfect outfit for such a special occasion.
Upon arrival at the palace the invite is scrutinised by security and I was then separated from my family and taken into a separate room for briefing on the protocol of the day. Family and guests are entertained in a separate lounge before entering the State Room to watch the ceremony. The surroundings were breathtaking and everyone was stunningly presented from the foot guards and ushers, to the Queen’s personal staff. Awards are given out in alphabetical order so I had a considerable wait being ‘R’ and you have to wait in line before making the long walk to the front. My medal was presented by Prince Charles who in his short conversation with me laughed out loud at my retort to his question as to how I coped with the amount of bureaucracy in education. My reply, “Wherever possible I ignore it!” obviously amused him.
We continued the celebrations with a traditional English meal at Shepherd’s on Marsham Street, a fabulous restaurant frequented by MPs and celebrities. I had sausage and mash washed down with champagne! The evening was rounded off perfectly watching a performance of Mama Mia in the West End. Our final day was spent watching England’s World Cup game in Covent Garden partaking of a few well earned beers.
It truly was a magical experience and one that we would all never forget.
Councillor Brian Rigby MBE