A Right Royal Ticking Off
A RIGHT ROYAL TICKING OFF
It was a bleak day in Belfast in the spring of 1981 when I opened a smart-looking envelope with a Royal crest. The writer said, in rather formal language, that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales had asked whether I would be prepared to be an usher at his forthcoming wedding to Lady Diana Spencer? I guess it was one of those offers in life that one could not refuse. In fact, I was thrilled to be asked and delighted to accept and it put a spring in my step for days to come. Years before I had the honour to serve as an equerry to the Prince of Wales which is why I was called back for this special occasion. An equerry is historically an officer of the household of a prince or noble who had charge over the stables. These days an usher is more of an executive assistant, though officially he is an officer of the British royal household who attends or assists members of the royal family.
It was a couple of months later that I was asked to attend a rehearsal in St Paul’s cathedral. There were many of us present as there were going to be 3500 wedding guests attending and there was going to be a good deal of organisation and ushing required on the big day. We were shown which part of the magnificent cathedral we would be responsible for and exactly what our task would be. It was an added pleasure that my wife had been included as a guest at the wedding and she took pleasure in choosing a suitable dress, hat and shoes to wear for the day.
A second invitation, printed on the thickest of white card with a gold rim, had arrived inviting us to attend a grand ball to celebrate the marriage. This was to be held in Buckingham Palace two days before the wedding. The dress for men was “White Tie” and I had never worn that before in my life. So it was off to Moss Bros where I could hire the full suit which is the most formal in traditional evening Western dress codes. For men, it consists of a black dress coat with tails worn over a white shirt, Piqué waistcoat and the eponymous white bow tie worn around a standing wingtip collar. To ensure we were fully prepared for this special occasion we even went to ballroom dancing classes to brush up on skills which in my case were very lacking.
The reception and ball were certainly very grand affairs. I remember that after a fine glass of champagne on arrival we joined a line to be introduced to Prince Charles and Diana, and how radiant she looked. We then walked on and found Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen were playing in one of the staterooms and that music certainly appealed to the younger generation, while a small orchestra was playing waltzes for the more sedate guests in the main ballroom. Dinner was a magnificent buffet laid out in a few of the rooms and, given the numbers, there was no formal seating so one sat at any table and you could be sitting with the leader of a Highland clan or a gamekeeper from a royal estate. The decorations for the party were breath-taking and included some helium balloons with the Prince of Wales Feathers. As we were thinking of leaving, I noticed some people taking down balloons as souvenirs. With the best of wines inside me, I dared to join them and soon I was holding four balloons. At this point, the Queen passed by me and remarked that “four was a bit greedy”! She was quite right of course, but I said they were for the others in our small group. I felt properly admonished by the highest authority in the land!
The wedding itself was a stunning occasion of pomp and pageantry. With three choirs the cathedral was full of wonderful singing and the elegant guests I was responsible for all turned up and sat where they should. My mother watching on TV at home in Cardiff was as proud as punch that I was on duty and was convinced that she saw me in my blue uniform and crimson sash. We drove home later that day and our children were delighted with the fancy balloons we gave them.