It was a memorable day in more ways than one…
We’d only just flown in from Africa the day before, and for logistical reasons were coming in by car from Southampton (Lizzie, her Dad, and the boys) and by train (Grace, my parents and I) from Henley.
When the British Ambassador rang me asking if we’d be willing to accept the award of an MBE – apart from thinking he was joking – I asked him if there were reasons not to accept that I might not have thought of. A small number of you have questioned the honours system, but I think the bottom line for us is that we see it as an award that we receive on behalf of a whole team of wonderful Burundian brothers and sisters, and as an opportunity for increased influence and promotion of Burundi moving forward.
So we arrived separately at Buckingham Palace, and prepared to meet the Queen. Lizzie had only just picked up our elderly Passat, which was covered in multiple splattered bird turds, but was still allowed into the Palace grounds. I asked the burly policeman holding his semi-automatic if there’d ever been as filthy a vehicle entering through the gates, and he chuckled and said there had indeed been worse! The car may have been clapped out, but Lizzie was resplendent. (See the photos below. I’ve got to include lots of them because they’re the most expensive ones I’ll ever buy, and we weren’t allowed cameras inside the Palace itself, but I refuse to be further fleeced for the film of us meeting and receiving our award in person!)
There were 95 of us being honoured, and we were the only couple amongst them. (Sir) Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees was one. I spoke to Heather Knight, English cricket captain, and winner of the World Cup, who was getting an OBE. We were a general hotch potch of all sorts of folks from different fields.
It was an extremely impressive affair, I have to say. The Palace is absolutely stunning. Guards stood motionless to attention everywhere in their refinery. Being such fans of the Queen, it was a minor disappointment that although she was upstairs in residence, we were instead presented our award by Prince Charles – but at 92-years-old, we can forgive Her Majesty for slacking off official duties a little!
And then it was our turn. We’d been briefed on how far to walk, where to stop, turn at right-angles, bow/curtsy, step forward to the dais, talk until he put out his hand to shake ours signifying the end of the conversation, and then step back still facing him, bow/curtsy, about turn and walk off.
The most beautiful thing happened as we stepped forward, which nobody else noticed except me: I’m a total cultural philistine when it comes to classical music. The only two pieces, I’m embarrassed to admit, that I can recognise at all are Handel’s Hallelujah chorus (everyone knows that one), and Rachmaninoff’s (hang on, let me just google to find out what it’s called) ‘Rhapsody on a theme from Paganini’. Rachmaninoff’s because it was the piece of music that Lizzie chose to walk into at our wedding, and I remember turning around at the altar and being utterly overcome by her pure beauty as she walked up the aisle towards me, such that tears immediately came to my eyes. Well, the live orchestra had been playing non-stop throughout the hour and a quarter ceremony, getting through lots of different splices of musical pieces. And just as we stepped forward, without missing a beat, they kicked in with that same Rachmaninoff piece. I smiled and looked upwards and took it as a little bonus affirmation from our Heavenly Father, who of course is the only Audience that really matters ultimately, even if it was nice to be in an earthly Palace surrounded by lots of important people.
A bonus piece of comedy was Lizzie forgetting to retreat and curtsy, instead just turning around and walking off, so I had to whisper her back like a naughty little schoolgirl, and I gave Prince Charles an apologetic wink!
Then after photos, we went to have a pub lunch with family and GLO staff and trustees, both past and present. There were speeches, tears, laughter, it was fabulous!
So that’s it. Folks, a huge thank you forjourneying with us over the last two decades or however long we’ve known each other. The adventure continues. The needs remain in Burundi, bigger than ever I’d say. We’re not slacking off. Please keep being generous and supporting the work. Enjoy the summer!
PS My lady doesn’t like public speaking, but this was a wonderful, coherent, emotional thanks and tribute to her late Mum (under 2mins). You don’t often get to hear Lizzie, so I wanted to share this with you…