OBE Investiture - 7th July 2004
My visit to see the Queen
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My life seems to be pretty eventful, but one of those memories that will never fade was the day I went to Buckingham Palace to collect my OBE from The Queen.
It all started on a relatively ordinary day at work, except for the fact that it was my Dad's Birthday, 26th November 2003. I'd already taken a number of telephone calls from students wanting extra time for handing in their essays, and I was sitting at my desk talking to my Administrator, Adrian, when the phone went again.
"Hello, is that Dr Walters?"
"This is the Prime Minister's Office at Number 10 Downing Street..." At this point I wondered which of my colleagues might be on the phone and having a laugh at my expense.
"There's nothing to worry about. We wondered if you had received our letter."
"Er....No. What letter?"
"The one we sent to you a few weeks ago?"
"Er, No. Did you have the right address?" They didn't - it was my old address.
"Oh, we're sorry. Well, there's nothing to worry about, but we are delighted to inform you that we would like to put your name forward to The Queen to be appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year's Honour List." Adrian told me I went quite white and started shaking uncontrollably.
"No, we're not, you really are being considered for an OBE. We are chasing you up because you hadn't replied, but obviously the letter went astray. We can fax it to you, and if you are willing to accept, please fax it back to us today."
I was shaking and rather incoherent, but managed to deal with the paperwork, then followed an anxious few weeks until the List was published on New Year's Eve, complete with my name as Dr Sarah Walters, OBE for Services to Medicine. I still don't really know what I've done to deserve it! The certificate was posted to me, signed by The Queen and Prince Philip, but of course the big day was the trip to London, and we finally received an invitation for 7th July 2004.
It was quite a major logistical exercise to get my Mum, Stephen and his Mum down to London and fixed up with a hotel, because of Mum's wheelchair and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. It wasn't helped by the train being one carriage short - and the missing carriage was the one with the wheelchair space. Virgin Trains were extremely helpful, and got us on First Class. The Hotel (Thistle Hotel, Marble Arch) was also excellent, with a really good wheel in shower and everywhere accessible to a wheelchair.
So we made it to the day, and the final worry of getting to Buckingham Palace. We had contacted them in advance about Mum's needs, and they were very kind and had sent us the relevant permit to get a taxi right in to the Courtyard. Sure enough, the taxi arrived, and after a brief wait for a Bomb Squad search, we were in through the gates. As we passed into the courtyard, the Guardsmen on the archway presented arms to us, which was amazing. The Palace were truly excellent with Mum, and she had at least one Footman with her all the time. They anticipated her need for "the facilities" and conveyed Stephen, Mum and his Mum up to the Ballroom in a lift. Mum got the best seat in the house, right at the front and right by The Queen. I was siphoned off into a holding area where I was briefed on how to behave. It was quite nerve-racking because we were all strangers, although Tim Henman was in my little group, but we all made friends. They recognised the "rabbit in the headlamps" look and how nervous we all were. My major worry was the bit where you have to walk backwards and curtsey after The Queen has given you the medal. I didn't want to fall over! I spent a while practising in the picture gallery where we were waiting, roped off in pens according to the award we were receiving.
Then we all stopped talking when the National Anthem played, and the live TV pictures in our waiting area showed that proceedings had started. Pretty soon I was ushered through until I was at the front of the queue. I couldn't believe it. There was The Queen, on the dais, with ghurka guards and Yeomen of the Guard and everything. Then my name was called! I managed the first curtsey without too much difficulty and walked forwards. The Queen was so wonderful, and clearly recognised how nervous I was. She was very gentle putting my medal on, and then asked me about my work. I managed a couple of almost coherent sentences, and then she bade me congratulations and I did the four steps backwards and curtsey again. Phew! I was then ushered out of the Ballroom, and my medal put in a presentation box by a very kind gentleman. A very senior RAF chap then showed me to my seat, where I could watch the rest of proceedings, including Tim Henman receiving his OBE, and Fred Dibnah, who was getting his MBE.
After the Ceremony, we all stood for the National Anthem, and then Mum was provided with another Royal Footman, and assisted back down to the Courtyard, where we were all photographed, and photographed each other. It was very breezy, but we had a wonderful time, and we finally made our own way to the Palace exit, and to hail a taxi to get us back to the hotel.
It still feels unreal, and I still don't know why I was awarded the OBE, although I am very honoured and proud to have it. It was quite a momentous day, and I know I will never forget it.
Please click on the thumbnail below to see the full photograph.