Firstly there were the frequently asked questions:
Did I know I if had been nominated?
No not at all; I wouldn’t have thought of it in my wildest dreams; so a massive thank you to the person who believed I deserved it, and putting in the effort to write it.
Did I buy a new dress?
Sadly not, as I couldn’t find the time and dedication needed for that adventure, however my two sisters did.
Did I know who which Royal was going to award it?
Well yes, a few weeks before the awards I was given an insider tip.
Did I get a glass of bubbles or afternoon tea?
No you only get water or a glass of apple juice – that’s it! The guests get nothing at all frippery with the budget here.
At around autumn time I received a letter in the post with a ‘will you accept’ if put forward for an MBE; a box needed to be ticked and the letter returned. I nearly missed it as I thought it was one of those government forms to be completed, so I initially gave it to my FD! Once the acceptance had been returned, I heard nothing, nada, zippo, literally nothing. As a result, I assumed I had not been successful. On New Year’s Eve the press receive the list of nominees and that’s when you get told by telephone (middle of night for me, as I was in Australia). You hear about the award in the press, just like everyone else.
Post announcement, it surprised me that there was a long period of time without contact, but then gradually a few bits of correspondence arrive, which is always lovely as it had the HRH post mark on it. The letters were generally about what you can and can’t do, the history and for me pride of place – you receive a beautiful scroll detailing your award and signed by HRH, and touchingly Philip.
Once you get the date, you then get instructions of what to do and that you are allowed to take 3 guests, which of course can cause stress and political manoeuvring! Fortunately I have three siblings, so it was an easy decision. I can only be grateful that it was at Windsor Castle, as it wasn’t far to get my sisters to Windsor; if it had been London I wonder how we would have made it on time!
I started the week off well, with a surprise presentation from the team on the Monday. They presented me with beautiful congratulations bracelet, but I felt that I should have been the one congratulating them, because without the team I couldn’t have achieved anything.
On the day, you of course get dressed up in the beautiful dresses/suits, hats and all (it is mentioned hats are preferred and to be honest 99.9% of people do wear them). As you arrive at the castle, you are greeted my many tourists, where you mingle, this can sometimes be a little awkward. However, I was surprised by some of my good friends who had come to wave me in – it was a lovely start to the day.
As you go through into the castle, the tourist hubble dies away and you are guided to the location by the ground team, who give an exceptional welcome. A greeting was made by each member of staff and their professionalism and warmth was outstanding; everyone said ‘have a nice day’ and mentioned a heart felt congratulations.
Once you have discarded your cameras and phones, the guests are separated to go sit in the ceremonial hall and the recipients are syphoned off to separate room, where you are served by the jolliest of Royal Household team members with water or apple juice. As everyone is an individual attendee, it was a great ‘forced’ way to network and to meet some truly deserving people with humbling stories of achievement.
You are then given a serious, yet delivered with humour, training session on how the ceremony will work and the order of service and entry (no training card needed to be signed, but I was expecting one!). Upon entering the hall, in an orderly line, you are ushered along by various people, all making sure you arrive on time, calm and confident in front of the nominated royal host; therefore allowing you to enjoy the moment.
I know that princess Anne had 70 other people to present to on the day, but she still managed to give her undivided attention and seemed genuinely interested, asking appropriate questions about my career in hospitality and pinned on the bow without trouble (they pin a holder to you so they only have to hook it). Thankfully no comment was made on my appalling curtsey, however I was proud that I did manage to walk back and not turn.
I was impressed to see the beef-eaters and military personnel who stand there for an hour and half, stock still, whilst the ceremony takes place. However, I was most impressed with Princess Anne’s skills in small talk and genuine kindness, regardless of knowing that the ceremony is 90 minutes long and there are 70 people to get through. It was so impressive that I would go on a training course, if there was one.
You are then ushered out of other door and to the back of the hall to watch, over a sea of hats, the final proceedings until it’s all over and the ‘court’ march out. When it is all finished you go to have photos taken or you go on a short tour whilst you wait for places to be free. It is all very well organised and at no time do you feel rushed or unvalued.
We then left the palace, greeted by another local friend who came and took snaps of the family with the medal, capturing the last moments. It was then the good old British fashion of going ‘down the pub’; all be it Heston’s Hind Head, so slightly more special and it had my favourite dish on the menu: Ox tail and kidney pudding, alongside some great G&T’s! The celebrations then continued of course through to the evening with special friends and all in all, it was a perfect day.
So the lessons learnt that you can use in business:
1: With great training, the team on the ground can make all the difference. Knowing that, whilst you may have been doing this for years, to each customer it is possibly their first experience and a special moment. So always remember that if it’s a special day for someone it needs extra special effort.
2: Preparation and planning will give you military precision and this puts everyone at ease, as knowing what you are doing makes for a relaxed and enjoyable event.
3: If you want people to mingle, never let anyone enter a room with someone they know; there was more networking on the day than I had ever known. All guestsmade an effort to introduce themselves and make sure that everyone was included.
4: Recognition is really valued – everyone loves to think that they make a difference in people’s lives.
5: Small talk is a professional skill and it’s all in the eye contact and demonstrating good listening skills
6: Special occasions are nothing without friends, colleagues and family to share the moment with.
Until next time…