ONE of the proudest moments of my life was attending a luncheon in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Worcester Guildhall on March 1, 2001
I still can remember my surprise and delight at receiving a formal invite in the post from the then Mayor of Worcester Councillor Mary Drinkwater ahead of the big day.
Being editor of our Worcester paper at the time I’d been aware of the Royal visit so the Queen could formally open the police station and visit Royal Worcester Porcelain but I had not expected this bonus treat!
What an honour, I thought, and immediately started writing my RSVP to accept the invitation. This would be one to tell the grandchildren about one day.
I called the Mayor to say thank you, almost to doubly ensure I was definitely coming along. She said I’d soon have an MI5 file as all guests would be checked out by the secret service.
Nobody would be taking any chances with the Queen’s visit. Indeed on the day itself, I remember being told by staff she is always seated away from a window and noted there were some men dressed as waiters who were not serving food, rather keeping an eye on proceedings just in case.
So to the big day, and all I can reference to recollect from are my memories and the keepsakes I took away as there was no social media at the time.
There could be no pre-lunch selfie outside the Guildhall to post on Instagram and Facebook. Mobile phone cameras were nowhere near as good as today’s back then, not that we were allowed them inside the hall anyway!
I excitedly produced my invite pass from my best suit to the guard at the gates of the Guildhall and entered via the red carpet in front of the crowds now gathering in anticipation of the Queen and the Duke’s arrival. I felt like a real VIP and very lucky to be there.
Brushing shoulders with the city’s movers and shakers, MPs and dignitaries from across the county, I made my way upstairs to find my table. I was sat with notable folk including the artist David Birtwhistle, whose watercolour of the Guildhall had been reproduced for the day’s special menu.
The food and wines had been chosen by the Queen and Duke, though he opted for a pint of bitter from the Guildhall bar, checked for quality first by one of his aides.
I had a good view of them as they entered, noting the Duke was shorter than he looks on TV (compared to the Queen he looked tall though!) It was quite surreal seeing the most famous person in the world with my own eyes.
I was a few tables away from the Queen who sat on one table and the Duke who sat at another.
The pair would ‘spread the wealth’ on these occasions so more people got to spend time with either one of the Royal couple. After the luncheon I spoke to those special guests sat with the Queen to find out about their experience.
They told me Her Majesty spoke to one half of the table exclusively during the starter of Loch Fyne smoked salmon with avocado salsa (served with a Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley) and the other half during the main which was Breast of Gressingham Duck with Campari and caramelised orange and was washed down with Chateau Segonnes from Margaux.
It was almost as though the opposing sides were invisible when not being engaged in conversation by the Queen, but this was how she maximised her time with her people.
The Royals do not stay for dessert and we had been instructed to stand in silence as they left – just as we had when they entered, with no cheering or clapping – leaving us the dessert to relax and natter about what we’d just witnessed!
I can remember an audible hum of voices rise once they had departed, one of breathing out with relief from no longer being on our best behaviour mixed with the thrill of the occasion now being discussed across the Trio of Chocolate pudding with dessert wine.
David Birtwhistle began sketching the scene in his art book and we all reflected on being part of a brilliant moment in history. One I shall always cherish and never forget.
For the Queen and the Duke though, Royal duties recommenced and they were whisked off for more hand shaking, and meeting and greeting that afternoon