To Windsor Castle: And the Band Played on…

I recently attended the  ‘Investiture at Windsor Castle’ for my father’s knighthood for over 30 years of political service. Each person receiving an honour is allowed to invite up to three guests. It was a fine October day, with the early morning mist still shrouding Windsor Great Park as the line of cars of people receiving awards began queuing up from around 9.15 am along the great avenue that stretches before Windsor Castle. Most of the cars (certainly my father’s silver 4 x 4, which was uncharacteristically mud-free) showed evidence of having been through a car wash and wheels polished.

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Likewise the formal shoes of all honourees were all shined, brushed and glistening like a Guard’s officer or a Dowager Countess (of which more later). Many shoes, bags and indeed outfits looked new. An Investiture – there are around 27 a year, split between Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse  – is not the time to let your sartorial standards slide. Nobody wants to be remembered by the 100 plus audience of family and friends  – like a Bateman cartoon – for having a mother of pearl button missing from your morning waistcoat.

The orange printed invitation card issued to each guest by the Lord Chamberlain stated ‘Entry from 10 O’ Clock’. Since almost everybody was cautiously early, a police officer walked along the row of cars (resembling the queue to get into Car Park 1 at Royal Ascot) and said it was fine to go off and have a coffee and ‘stroll around’ in Windsor.

Once we were inside the castle gates, the first thing I noticed were Her Majesty’s lawns. Never have I seen lawns so immaculate, edges so manicured, stripes so regimental and grass so glossy, Forest-of-Arden green. Thinking of my bumpy mole hills and un-scarified lawns at home in the country made me realise how a well presented English lawn is one of our nation’s great contributions to civilisation. Windsor Castle’s lawns make Wimbledon centre court or the Lords cricket square suddenly resemble a municipal dog-park.

We were handed smart navy blue Investiture booklets, listing all those receiving honours  and the selection of music like a wedding order of service. The ceremony was in the Waterloo Chamber, a magnificent room decorated with a series of 25 famous paintings by Thomas Lawrence celebrating victory at Waterloo in 1815. Family members and guests sit in the main chamber whilst those receiving honours wait in another room waiting for their moment to be ‘presented’. Once you receive your award, you then take a seat at the back – clutching your award – of the Waterloo Chamber. I was sitting on the end of an empty row in an aisle seat near the back which meant I had a clear view down the main aisle of all proceedings. It all felt quite overwhelming.

There was suddenly silence.

A royal trumpet sounded followed by the National Anthem played by a string orchestra (conducted by Major Philip Stredwick of the Corps of Army Music) assembled in a minstrel’s gallery at the back of the state chamber. The Queen then entered attended by two Gurkha officers – a tradition going back to 1876 by Queen Victoria – and escorted by either the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Steward or a Lord in Waiting who then stands to the Her Majesty’s right and announces the name and ‘achievement’ for which they are being decorated.

The first up receive their award was Dame Maggie Smith who received The Companion of Honour. The next thing I knew she was sitting next to me as the empty row of seats began filling up with honourees clutching their decorations. Several thoughts floated through my head as I sat in a semi-surreal state waiting for my father’s turn.

First, I never realised how much she was ‘aged up’ in Dpwnton with make-up to look much older than she looks in real life. The second thing that surprised me was that instead of putting down his conductor’s baton when the ceremony began, Major Stredwick’s string orchestra continued to play throughout the Investitute. Perhaps this is just royal tradition or maybe the music drowns out anybody hearing what Her Majesty may be saying to those being decorated.

Nobody can accuse the Royal Household of being stuck in the Victorian or Edwardian era when it comes to their selection of music. The music was far from the sort of Vivaldi court wallpaper music I was expecting. True, the orchestra started with Elgar’s Salut d’Armour but it wasn’t long before Major Stredwick was getting into his stride with film music by John Barry from the movie ‘Somewhere in Time’, followed by ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables (Schonberg). My favourite moment was when the Major played an animated rendition of ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ – from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair.

When I saw my father walking in, it was a very proud moment. The Queen spoke with him for a short while (he refuses to say what she said as a royal conversation, as Cameron should have known, is not for repetition). Those receiving a Knighthood then kneel on a velvet Investiture Stool which is placed in front of the Queen. Her Majesty then bestows the Accolade (as it is officially termed) using the sword which King George VI used as Duke of York. It was a memorable occasion.
My only regret of the splendid occasion was that the ceremony coincided with a three-line whip for a 12.30pm vote in the Commons on the Referendum Bill. This meant my father had to leave his Investiture early to catch a train on his own to London to make the vote. Despite an attempt by my mother and brother to mutiny in favour of a family lunch, my father is not so easily swayed. Political duty prevailed over lunch.

The only other snag about taking the train back early to vote is that he missed out on queuing up (and it is a real queue) for the ‘official’ photo of him standing by a panelled board in Windsor Castle after the ceremony holding up his decoration. So my father’s ‘official’ knighthood photograph is actually taken of him on the day standing outside the House of Commons (see above).

Speaking Express and Star after receiving his award, my father summed up the day: “I’m so delighted, I try to do everything I can for what I believe in, both in the House of Commons and for the country and obviously Her Majesty in the sense I serve her and am devoted to her as a monarch – so it’s a very great honour.Some people would say the clock has turned a very long way so I’m very pleased about that’.

My father has a way of not letting his views rest. “There is of course unfinished business however’ he added, ‘regarding the whole question of the integrationist programme of the rest of Europe. So we’ve got to deal with the whole question of restoring the right of British people to govern themselves and restore parliament to its rightful place.”

Certainly having his photo taken outside the Commons did seem like the right place.