Fidelibus et dilectis nostris
What a week to be ill! Two days before the Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace and I come down with sinusitis. Lucky I was well enough for the great day itself (Thursday 7th December 2017), because by Friday night, on top of asthma, I started the most horrendous bronchitis that I have ever had. Both during Friday and Sunday nights, I was so bad that John and I were on the verge of dialling 999. On Sunday afternoon, whilst in bed, I coughed so badly; I picked up a full glass of water to soothe my rasping vocal chords and I actually passed out, momentarily. As I came to, it was my first ‘out of body’ experience; I didn’t know where I was or even who I was. Then I realised I had dropped the full glass of water all over me!
Anyway, steroids and antibiotics to the rescue, so hopefully I can now share some of the great happenings of the OBE Investiture with you all, including some pictures and a brief video.
This wasn’t my first Investiture with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales! The first one, of course, was his, at the age of 21, in Caernarvon Castle (1 July 1969). I was 12 at the time, and in a street party, like thousands of others, at home in Cardiff. The street party was a great occasion for all the children (and some of the adults!) to get dressed up in carnival mood. My one sister, Brenda, decided that I – a twelve-year-old boy – would look great in her orange bathing costume with built-in cups, replete with make-up and back-combed hair: well, it was the 1960s! Years later when I first came out to her as gay, and she was trying to understand what it all meant, she would ask me “Well what made you gay? How did you become gay?” To which I used to reply: “YOU made me gay, when you dressed me in your bathing costume!!!” We still laugh at that today.
Back to my OBE Investiture. Obviously, I’ve told the story of the original announcement I received, in the “Cabinet Office” envelope, dated 9th May, 2017 (the 30th anniversary of my ordination to priesthood). That story of the letter arriving is elsewhere on WordPress. On Monday of the Investiture week, my eldest sister Amy came up from Cardiff to stay with “my husband and I”, to look after our three little ones on the Thursday.
When that day eventually arrived, and I was already starting to feel washed-out with the sinusitis, we got up just before 6am, with a taxi booked for 8. When I originally booked the taxi, and said to the operator that I needed to go to Buckingham Palace, she enquired “Is that Buckingham Palace Road?”, “No”, I replied “the main gates!”
John and Amy spent time on Wednesday checking YouTube videos on how to tie a cravat, so I let Amy get on with doing mine for me. She also took some pictures of us as we were getting ready.
John and I have never worn “tails” before. Our civil partnership was the quietest of events; only the two of us and our two witnesses: (an ex-priest and an ex-nun) in 2006. When we ‘converted’ the civil partnership to marriage in September 2017, the event was even quieter, just the two of us and the Registrar. So we’ve never done all the wedding photos sort of thing. Buckingham Palace was an opportunity to scrub up!
Wedding certificate in hand – 1 September 2017, back-dated to Civil Partnership, 2006
The taxi driver was great; quite a socialist and republican, as he self-proclaimed, but fully excited and engaged in our event, our big day. As we got nearer to Westminster, I had to take my asthma inhaler as the London air pollution was as choking in the lungs as it was strong-smelling in the nostrils. Looks like we had a Police escort up the Mall, too! As we got out of the taxi, Her Majesty The Queen’s helicopter was just taking off, to transport her to Portsmouth for the launch of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Royal Standard was still flying over the Palace until we were just about to enter the gates.
We entered the Palace by the main archway, so iconic for all those Royal carriage rides. The Lord Chamberlain greeted us individually and chatted with us, making us feel so at ease.
A woman behind me asked the Lord Chamberlain, “Is there anyone famous getting an award today?” to which he replied, “Yes, about 80 of you!”
We weren’t allowed to take photos, but oh, what a chocolate-box image greeted us in the main entrance hall. I’ve been there about a dozen or more times (once for a Garden party and then the annual summer openings), but this was right in the full atrium, surrounded with about 7 huge Christmas trees, festive decorations on the fireplace and walls, and all interspersed with statuesque, but real-life, Blues and Royals and Life Guards. The whole vista proved a stunning sight to behold.
Ascending the main stair-case, as I’ve done on these dozen-or-so occasions in the past, John and I had to go our separate ways. He was escorted straight to his seat in the Ball Room, and the Recipients were ushered into a room to meet and greet each other, have some soft drinks and get our marching orders (Ed Sheeran was there, too)! The Lord Chamberlain is really quite tall; bedecked in his ceremonial uniform, he looked fine showing the gentlemen how to bow at the neck, not the chest or waist. But he completely disappeared out of view as he did the deepest courtesy, more like a profound genuflection, as he demonstrated the bob to the ladies! I was standing next to quite a short lady and a female police officer, neither of whom could see to the front when the Lord Chamberlain dipped out of sight. The shorter of the two women practised her courtesy, starting one time each on the left, then the right, leg. She wobbled on each, too! Poor thing was so nervous, but so kind. She fiddled with my cravat, which wasn’t sitting quite right on the back of my neck. When the police officer asked if I’d seen the courtesy and how to do it, I did an exercise lunge, and told her she had to do it like that! We were all laughing; it was a great occasion and fabulous atmosphere indeed.
The first group of us – me at the end, preceded by a Professor from Queens University – made our way to the Ball Room in time to hear the National Anthem strike up, as His Royal Highness arrived on the dais. In the cue, I got chatting to the wonderfully friendly and helpful Pat Collins, whom I’d spoken to on the phone before, from the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. I needed some sips of water to stop my choking, due to my inflamed sinuses and catarrh; damn it!
Then it was my turn …
Click here or the image below to see the brief 5 minute video here (sign in with pass code: 95358721), as it shows the joy on my face, meeting His Royal Highness, better than I could ever explain in words here.
“For services to nursing
and sexual health education”
HRH The Prince of Wales was truly amazing and fully engaged with each and every one of us. I remember him asking me where I worked and hoped I had been given the day off. Then he enquired “How did you get in to sexual health?” “It all started when I was a Catholic priest, Sir.” He rocked back in laughter and said something like “You are not serious!” Just look at the laughter shared between the two of us in the video; like we are old friends (I wish!)
There’s so much I would have loved to have chatted to him about; meeting his Father at a Garden Party when I was a priest at Chepstow (1998), or the two occasions meeting his late and former wife, Princess Diana.
I would have also loved to have asked him to pass on my best wishes to his Mother, a woman I have always totally admired since as young as I can remember (I don’t think I have ever missed a Christmas broadcast – at 3pm – any time since I first started watching them as a child). And finally, I would have loved to have told him that I wish him and his wife a most wonderful life together, and a glorious reign as King and Queen, whenever the time comes.
I am still truly thankful to my head of department, Dr Karen Cleaver, for nominating me; for the total love and support from John, my partner of 26 years and now husband, and our families, friends and all the people, students and learners I have ever worked with, who are my constant inspiration in life. Truly humbled, still, that, in my Royal Warrant of Appointment, Her Majesty The Queen refers to me as … “Our trusty and well beloved”.
Or as one might say in Latin: