Friday, March 3rd 2017
Dearest Family and Friends,
Thank you all so much for all your wonderful letters, cards, emails, texts and other messages about "My Big Event". I have been completely overwhelmed by the whole thing and terribly touched by your really kind comments. So many of you have been asking for news of the Big Day and so I thought I should try and record some of the memories now, for posterity, and to share with you if you are interested! Please forgive this "Round Robin" approach but I have had over 250 of you sweetly contacting me with such lovely messages of support! Oh the joy of email!
A week on from "My Big Event" and it is all beginning to feel like a bit of a distant dream and I have to pinch myself to remind myself that it really did happen!
When I was first told that I had been awarded this great honour I was told that the Investiture would take place at Buckingham Palace sometime during the first 6 months of this year, and that I would be given the date a mere 5 weeks before the day! Panic panic! The lovely clean pages of the new diary were already beginning to look scarily full, Sophie had various holidays booked, we were due to do an extra long house-sitting job and so on and so forth! Still, I told myself it was bound not to be 'til the Spring and started dreaming of a new summer outfit!
Then came the letter! My date was to be 17th February! So soon, and in the middle of the house-sit! No time to think of new outfits, but equally not too long to worry about the whole thing either!
And so it was that on Friday 17th February 2017 at 9:05am precisely David, Emma, Sophie and I drove up to the gates of Buckingham Palace! We were the first car to arrive and most definitely the oldest! As we drove into London David remarked that my dear old Passat had got 196,000 on the clock, and that he had had to scrape off the moss which was growing round the windows, while giving it a "right royal" spit and polish in preparation for the Big Event!
The old "mirror under car" security check took me right back to Army Quarter days, and indeed the last time Emma had been inside the Palace gates had been when the 2nd Goorkhas changed the guard at Buckingham Palace! David and I, plus incidentally same loyal country car, had however, driven in through those self-same gates a few years ago for tea with Princess Alexandra! But this day was very different. This was a very very special day, and from that very first moment of arrival, right through the entire time we were at the Palace, every single person from policeman, to lowest under footman to the highest ranking courtier, all made one feel that one was the most important person in the whole world, and that this was the most important day of their whole year!
As we waited to be allowed through the gates Emma spotted the Hockey Girls - Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh. She leapt out of the car to go and have a chat and was thrilled to find how terribly friendly they were. As more and more people arrived the excitement mounted! By 9:30 we were waved through, just as out of the corner of my eye I spotted a blacked out limo drive in at top speed through the right hand gates and thought "That's the Prince of Wales for sure....late for work!“ And as it turned out, I was right!
Once parked in the Quad we were "on"....there was the red carpet and in we went! The welcome was exemplary, the Lifeguards with bayonets fixed looked like statues so still they stood, and as for the loos....well, big wooden thrones, real thunder boxes! Very soon after the Loo Stop the way was divided, recipients to the right, families to the left! So now I really was on my tod! This was it! The next time I would see David and the girls I would be the proud owner of one very magnificent medal. It transpired that they were ushered straight to the Ballroom, where they got super seats, but absolutely "nil by mouth"! Not even water is provided for the families! Must be to stop them all trooping in and out needing the loo I presume! The Ballroom was also pretty chilly! Apparently Prince Charles demands that the heating is turned right down on his days! We, the recipients, did get water or apple juice, and were very soon aware that it was indeed to be Prince Charles, who would be “doing" us today! We were all undoubtedly, secretly hoping that it would be the Queen but she was clearly out walking the corgis having a day off, and for me, Prince Charles was good news as he is the new Patron of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Bingo, I thought!
The wait in our "corridor" seemed long I must say but surrounded by copious Canalettos and mingling with a group of such extraordinarily awesome people made it truly memorable. My group included Baroness Warnock, Maggie Philbin, the Mrs Richardson-Walshes, the fabulous Paralympic swimming girls and one lovely Beefeater, together with some wonderful women who had done incredible things, mainly for their communities, charities and industry. Then came our briefing from our terribly smooth, good-looking, utterly charming "Stick-in-Waiting" or whatever! His demo of a curtsey was classic! When asked if we had any questions all I wanted to ask was if I could go to the loo and if so where! When I did manage to ask the question my new "Besties " seemed suitably thrilled and we all rushed to the loos chatting away like a whole gaggle of girls on a school trip! Oh the camaraderie of women! Eventually we were called forward in groups of about 20. I was in the third gang to go forward! As we queued in another "corridor" the hilarious woman ahead of me, in establishing that the CCTV cameras were not on us, proceeded to exclaim how wonderful it would be to be able to pull her tights up, at which point every woman in the queue followed suit! Much hilarity followed which helped calm the nerves! This was followed by peering in the mirrors along the corridor until, with the Prince within our sight, she looked in a very last mirror and said "Well it's too late now to lose that 2 stone!" Classic!
Just in front of us was an adorable paralympian looking so pretty in her red dress, so happy that her MS was giving her a good day and a break from her wheelchair, but so worried that she would wobble in curtsey. We rehearsed her with modified curtseys, on she went and there was not a wobble in sight.
Suddenly I was at the front of the queue with my name being checked and ticked off for the umpteenth time, this time by a lovely, pretty, fresh-faced twenty-something-year-old girl who made me think of Soph! Then as we peeped round into the Ballroom there was my family...David, Emma and Soph in the 2nd row! At that point, pretty girl with clipboard and Soph catch each other's eye, and realise that they know each other from Itchenor! Lots of giggles and gesticulating follows and I'm very surprised that I didn't miss my cue! Deep breath, big thought of my parents, and off I go...
"Filing on" is a precision performance...align yourself to breast bone of courtier, then 2 steps forward, turn, curtsey, 2 steps forward, and then there's Prince Charles, pinning your medal onto the clip that has been previously put onto you, and having "The Chat"! In my case he acknowledged that he was the new Patron of The CF Trust, and I told him how very thrilled we were to have him! I then put in a huge plug for Gene Therapy, and then he remarked how amazing Emma was to run the Marathon! Home-work done, HRH! Much appreciated! I told him that in fact Emma had run it not just once, but twice! Oops, should I have corrected HRH!? "Off with my head"!?!
Shake hands, 2 steps back, curtsey and off. All done! Then a very nice courtier unclips your medal and puts it into a beautiful box, and then your handbag is returned and you go to sit at the back of the hall!
Note: The Countess of Wessex's Orchestra plays throughout. Simply glorious.
And then, all too soon, it's all over, but the thrill is then to be reunited with your family! Out we file, back to the throne loos, lots of chat, collect coats, and back in the queue, this time for the photographers! As with the rest of the morning this is all a “well-oiled machine", and runs like clockwork, if a slightly slow clock! Tummies start to rumble but the tales of amazing people doing remarkably unselfish things continues as stories are swapped as the queue winds on.
When we eventually get to the front it's out into the Quad, to a very nice, very professional "professional" photographer. Once again we are made to feel un-rushed and special.
And then we're done! The sun bursts through. The light through the huge gates looking out to the outside world is spectacular. We take happy snaps, say goodbye to "new best friends" and then it's time to leave! Driving out through the gates of Buckingham Palace, through the ranks of gawping tourists, all waving madly, is rather fun!
Next stop is lunch and we are certainly ready for it! Our table is booked for 1:30 and it's 1:45! Help! Luckily, on Soph's recommendation, David has booked Galvin at Windows at the top of The Hilton! We sweep into its underground car park and up in the lift to the 28th floor!
Wow what a view! David has got us the best table, a huge round table, in the window with spectacular views right out over Hyde Park and down into Buck House's back garden! We really could see the corgis from here!
Lunch is absolutely amazing. We had never been to a Michelin starred restaurant so it's all such a treat! We are drinking bellinis, in the sunshine, looking out over the whole of London, together, just the 4 of us! We've been to the Palace, I've got my MBE. We were all well. Not a sniffle in sight! Oh so proud of my darling daughters and my beloved David. Emma looked so pretty and well, Sophie adorable and David my hero! Everything was perfect! My Brilliant Everything. A day I will never ever forget.
And then, as the clock strikes 4 (as opposed to 12!) we are back in the car and heading home .
We drive into the most beautiful sunset. And then we're home! Jeans and gumboots on...dogs out, donks eeyoring for their supper! Out into the darkness I go, into the mud again, but with my whole heart singing! We did it! "Job done" as the young say!
I feel soooo lucky and so humbled to have been given this incredible award.
Thank you all so much for the support and solidarity over so many years which has helped me earn this medal. Always driven and inspired by Emma, nurtured by Solidarity Soph and given strength , confidence and reassurance by David, I now feel driven to really honour it, by pushing on to make sure that gene therapy gets its rightful recognition, and to expand the CF service at Frimley Park. Watch this space! "Job not quite done" ...yet!!!
With much love
PS We were indeed really blessed last Friday, as exactly a week on, Emma was taken by ambulance at 3am to Winchester Hospital (no time to get to Frimley) with severe chest pains. She thought she was having a heart attack. This can happen in CF as a result of the very fatty diet needed to keep the weight on. She was discharged with suspected pericarditis. More investigations to follow at Frimley. This after shingles is pretty tough with Monty's chicken pox in between, and makes Emma's perfect "Palace Appearance" all the more of a miracle. She is one little trooper for sure. Tough. Xxx
Tessa Morrish MBE
"We were delighted to see that Tessa Morrish, one of the UKCFGTC biggest supporters over many years, received a well-deserved MBE for her services to charity. Tessa’s support, encouragement and perseverance has been hugely appreciated and were well exemplified by Tessa even managing to mention gene therapy to Prince Charles during the award ceremony. We look forward to continuing to work with Tessa and her colleagues until ‘job done’."
Prof Eric Alton