9. juil., 2018

A Princely Hand


Storylines aren’t always totally made up from imaginary situations. A lot of my books contain cameos from my own life, embroidered into the pattern of the story – factionalised. Here are two cameos that I would love to include in a book someday, if only I could think of a storyline to go with them.

 Meeting VIPs -  from famous footballers to royalty - was a part of my life that has left me with many a memory that is still great to share with guests at the dinner table. Back in the UK my husband was the director of Sir Peter Scott’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Park at Washington [north-east England, rather than the USA]. Sir Peter was the son of the famous Scott of the Antarctic. HRH Prince Charles is the President of the charity and I had the pleasure of meeting him twice. On both occasions, he came to my rescue.

 One incident was when Prince Charles came to open a new wing at the Washington centre. It was a freezing January morning and a group of us who were chosen to be introduced to the prince were lined up by the official photographer. I was to be the first to be introduced [don’t ask why, but I was rather pleased about that]. We stood there waiting for about an hour, frozen stiff, with the photographer constantly rearranging the group – mostly my position. It was a case of: “Mrs. Gadsby could you move back just a little please?” After the third time of asking, I suddenly realised that I was balanced at the very top of a flight of stairs, the heels of my shoes nearly hanging over. I felt very unsteady – more so when Prince Charles arrived and signed the visitor’s book right next to me, saying: “I can’t join up my letters this morning.” Then I was introduced and had to curtsy as we shook hands. I teetered on that top step, bending my knee and having visions of falling backwards with HRH on top of me. But he tightened his grip and I was saved the embarrassment of appearing on the front pages of Britain’s newspapers. He then made an apology to the group for having a bad cold, which he claimed he had caught from his son. William was then only a year old.

 Another saving experience took place when we attended the AGM at Slimbridge, the headquarters of the Trust. Lady Philippa Scott asked us if we would like to be introduced to Prince Charles, and of course we would.  We were the last in line and Lady Scott apologised profusely, saying that there wasn’t time for us to meet the prince after all as lunch was about to be served.  We were left standing only a few yards behind Prince Charles, who was conversing with Sir Somebody on one side of him and Lord somebody else on the other. They ended their conversation and the two men departed in different directions, leaving Prince Charles standing alone, everyone having disappeared into the dining hall. HRH spun around and saw us standing there, strode up to us, hand outstretched.  Brian introduced himself as the Director of the Washington branch of the Trust, then turned to me – we weren’t married at the time – and simply said: “And this is June.” The Prince shook my hand with a broad smile and said: “Hello, June.” He and Brian exchanged a few words, then HRH looked pointedly at me and asked what I thought was needed to improve the north-east of England. Well, that was unexpected, but I managed to pull out, hopefully, the right answer: “We need more culture,” I told him. “More art and music.” He just nodded and smiled and I hoped that he agreed and might do something about it.

 The dinner bell sounded again and Brian reminded the prince that lunch was being served. We walked hesitantly with him, completely unaware of the required etiquette. And he knew it, for he placed a hand on my back, leaned down to me and whispered: “You go first and I’ll follow.” All I could say was a simple “Thank you” and led the way into the dining hall, with Brian bringing up the royal rear. I was immediately pounced on by all the women there who were desperate to know what we had been talking about.  I smiled and shook my head, leaving them to wonder.

 Today, the north-east of England [Newcastle and Gateshead in particular] has become a real cultural region. It’s taken over thirty years, but I like to kid myself that my few words to Prince Charles on that memorable occasion had helped in some small way.