With the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the news at the moment I am reminded of my fleeting brushes with royalty.  I have only ever met two members of the royal family in the flesh (a potentially misleading expression ‘in the flesh’; we were all fully clothed at the time).

The first encounter was many years ago when the late Queen Mother came to open the new library at Hull University.  This was the library that boasted Philip Larkin as the librarian – perhaps that was why the Queen Mum agreed to come.  At the time I was a member of the university air squadron; a pilot officer no less, not because I deserved it, merely because my rank had been transferred from the army to the RAF.  This by the way was very good news; it meant I got paid at a higher rate than my colleagues – a significant factor to an impoverished student.  Actually, I could never quite believe the RAF paid us to learn to fly – it just seemed too good to be true.

Anyway, the members of the air squadron were invited to form a guard of honour on the forecourt immediately outside the library building.  We polished our gear and lined up in a neat row.  The Queen Mum drew up in a Rolls Royce, stepped out onto a red carpet, and proceeded to inspect us.  We stood to attention looking straight ahead.  I am very tall and the Queen Mother was very short so there was no question of making eye contact (probably not allowed anyway).  I could only see the feathers on the top of her hat.  She stopped in front of me and a voice from far below said, ‘And what’s your name?’.  I replied, ‘Honey, Ma’am  (to rhyme with spam).  There was a pause.  Then she said, ‘Oh, how sweet’ and moved swiftly along the line.  Clearly, this was supposed to be a merry quip; an original for her, hackneyed for me.

My second encounter with royalty was at a large conference in Birmingham, graced by a visit from Princess Anne.  The conference speakers, of which I was one, were told by the conference organisers that we were to be presented to the Princess.  Accordingly, at the appointed hour, we lingered in the foyer of the exhibition centre, straightening our ties and smoothing our hair. Princess Anne duly arrived and, one by one, we were introduced to her. She engaged each of the other speakers in animated conversation as if she was really interested in what they had to say. When she got to me she asked me about the subject of my lecture. 

This was tricky on two counts. 

Firstly, I always wince when people assume that I lecture.  I toyed with the idea of explaining that I preferred to run sessions with lots of audience participation, that this was more engaging than a lecture as such, that it made it more likely that people would learn ….and that the learning might even stick etc.  But I thought better of labouring these points.

Secondly, my subject at this particular conference was, surprise, surprise, learning style preferences.  Not an easy thing to explain succinctly to royalty (or to anyone else come to that).  How I wished I had been invited to do something that sounded more fascinating – or even pretended that I had  I could have claimed to be running a sesssioin on how to manage upwards (hmm, perhaps too threatening a concept for royalty) or managing problem people (safer, assumes problem people are underlings).  But, like a clot, I told her about learning style preferences.  I could see her eyes glaze over.  When I finished, she said, ‘I’m sure that will interest them’ and moved swiftly on (just like her granny had done years before).  I took her to mean, ‘That isn’t remotely interesting to me and I very much doubt it will be of interest to anyone else’.

I was once in the same room as Prince Phillip but mercifully he ignored me.

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