Receiving an MBE

December 17 2011

Oops! This morning I think I heard a presenter on Radio 4 say “..and that was XXX, CBE in the New Year’s Honours”. Well, it brought it all back, the strain of keeping quiet about one’s honour because otherwise “it’ll be taken away”. No doubt that’s a carefully nurtured rumour, but nevertheless I was very careful to tell only a very few people who were sworn to secrecy.

 But it reminds me that all over the country there will be hundreds of people who’ve received That Letter, and will have gone through the same period of disbelief that I did, and then will look in the paper on January 1 (or in my case June 16) and see it in print and think, “Well it really must be true!”. So, for those In Waiting, or just idle blog browsers, I thought it might be useful/entertaining to know what it’s actually like. Or what it was like in my case in 2008.  

 I’ll begin at the beginning with the arrival of an envelope in mid May that looked like a tax demand, except that it was from the Cabinet Office which frightened me; I wondered what I’d done to upset Gordon Brown. Inside was a letter from a man who signed himself my Obedient Servant, suggesting that “The Queen may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)”. The Prime Minister, he said, would be glad to know if this would be agreeable to me (I wonder how many people say no?).  If so I needed to fill in a form stating my ethnicity, disability, background… The rest of the sentence had stuck to the envelope flap and torn off. Since I had to admit that I was neither black nor disabled, I thought I might hear no more about it. I did phone my MD, Donald, and ask if it was a joke. He thought not. The citation was “For Services to the Tourism Industry and to Charity”.

 Well, you don’t know when you’re going to get the thing, so my first mistake was to rush out to the charity shop and buy a really nice summer outfit. I finally heard, in October, that the investiture would be at Windsor Castle in December, which meant I had waited seven months with the wrong clothes in the wardrobe.

 As I explained in my Christrmas letter, “I’m worrying. Mostly about clothes and my finger nails. I’m borrowing Inge’s red jacket and Daphne’s black trousers. And I’m hiring a hat with a huge brim (everyone I speak to say that it should be a small hat) so I’m sure I shall knock Her Majesty over with it. Or fall over myself when I try to curtsy. Or fail to recognise HM. Or…   And the fingernails! I painted my new fireplace today with heatproof black paint. I should have worn gloves, or at least not smeared permanent black paint under my nails. So I’m going to have to ditch the red jacket and hat, switch to faded black, and go as a Goth.”.

 The investiture was on December 17, and here’s how I described it at the time

.“So, it’s happened. I got invested and it was literally awesome. My guests Kate, Janice and Inge and I were ushered up a magnificent staircase past a line of household cavalry chaps all dressed in silver, red and gold and at least 7ft tall. Then the recipients were separated from the guests and herded into a room with refreshments (wisely non alcoholic) and we mingled. I talked to a jolly woman who got hers for Services to Netball and a conspicuously caring woman who’d done 30 years atGreatOrmondStreetHospital. And a woman who will have intrigued the Queen since hers was for Services to The Caterpillar Club. Disappointingly she turned out not to be an entomologist but connected with parachutists in the War. And there was a man called Dr Drain who got his for Services to the Environment (bet HM had a giggle over that). Then a beautiful Mr Darcy-like man came in, all hung about with plaited gold braid and wearing spurs, and talked us through what we’d have to do. My brain immediately went into No Memory mode and although I could hear the words they didn’t seem to refer to me: walk to Mr Foster and stand at his chest (what?) then turn 45 degrees and walk towards the Queen (oh Lord), stop and curtsy (demo of a curtsy, with spurs clanking), then forward to HM who would say a few words. We were to address her as Your Majesty the first time and Ma’am to rhyme with jam the second time. Then step back three paces, another curtsy, and leave the room. “One warning” he said, “Don’t forget to let go of the Queen’s hand”. Nervous giggles as we visualised hauling HM along the floor.  At that point a dishevelled young woman arrived, hat askew, panic oozing from every pore. She told me she thought the investiture was atBuckinghamPalaceand had turned up there at10 o’clock. Can you imagine the awfulness? But she made it – I suppose by taxi.

 Far too soon, I found myself at the head of the queue. I could see this little blue figure with white hair, and I became rooted to the spot. “Go on” said the gold-braided man giving me a little push. I couldn’t remember how legs are supposed to move to create a forward propulsion. Kate said I looked like Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, weaving my way across the floor in the rough direction of the Queen. But I did my curtsy and wobbled forward. She popped the medal onto me (they pin a hook on beforehand to make it easier) and said “Is it children?” I couldn’t think what to say. “No no” I blurted out “I publish guidebooks. For adults”. Then I realised she was talking about the charity part. “Oh yes, Children.Madagascar” and did a huge gesture to encompass theIndian Oceanand the children thereon. At that she looked rather frightened and held out her hand. I managed the second curtsy and fled, realising that I hadn’t addressed her as Your Majesty nor Ma’am.

 “Then photos and a lovely lunch with the lovely people who nominated me. The photo of the actual medal pinning arrived by email that evening. And I saw why people had said I should wear a small hat.”



 Things I wish I’d known:

 1)     Don’t decide what to wear until you know the date of the investiture

2)     Wear a small hat or fascinator

3)     Double check the location

4)     Arrive early! The instructions said don’t arrive til 10 o’clock. We got there at 9.30 and waited in the car park until 10.00. We were almost the last to arrive and my guests were stuck at the back of the hall.

5)     Relax! Everyone is extraordinarily nice to you and it is an occasion to savour for ever.



21 thoughts on “Receiving an MBE

  1. Yvonne Copley says:

    Hi hope someone can advise. I am going to Windsor in November. I think I will need a coat but is there anywhere to leave it?

    • I expect someone who has been there more recently will comment – but I’m sure you can wear – and leave – a coat. From the moment you cross the threshold everyone is absolutely lovely. Nothing is too much trouble. Congratulations – and aren’t you lucky? You’ll be done, I presume, by the reigning monarch and it’s been quite a few years since this has happened.

  2. Aileen says:

    Hi Pat, I loved your story and congratulations! I’m due to receive my MBE in a couple of weeks and my daughter wants to take the car into the palace (it would actually be a lot easier to walk) she likes the idea of driving through the gates. I’m worried about the timing, you said you sat in the car park until 10am, is that the palace car park? Do they let you drive in earlier than 10am. At least if we walked we could wait outside but I don’t want to be refused entry at 9.30am and end up driving around London and then being late. Any ideas? thanks

    • Hi Aileen
      I was ‘done’ at Windsor Castle, not Buckingham Palace but there you could certainly drive in well before 10. I’d love to be waved through those gates so definitely go for it! They’ll very politely stop you if you’re too early. Just remember, everyone is incredibly NICE! Enjoy. Hilary

    • Andy says:

      Hi Aileen,

      Congratulations on your award.

      It’s been a while but I don’t recall private vehicles actually entering the palace grounds, although to be honest that wasn’t exactly the focus of my attention. Everybody we went in with entered on foot.

      I work just down the road from the palace these days and I know that when they host large events they often ‘convert’ the strips either side of the Mall for Parking with an appropriate parking permit required, but I honestly don’t know if that applies to the Honours ceremony.

      I’d have thought allowing private vehicles in to the grounds might be a security nightmare so it may be worth checking rather than being disappointed on the day.

      Personally, I do hope you’re allowed to drive in… the only question then is do you take the Bentley or the Rolls 😉

      I know you’ll have a fantastic day, but wishing you all the very best anyway 🙂

  3. Paul Owen says:

    Hi, Thank you for your very informative and useful commentary. My question is Morning Dress or Lounge Suit for an OBE, If it was a knighthood no brainer – Morning Dress, but if I wear one for an OBE will I be the only one?

  4. Pat says:

    Thank you for telling your story with such humour. I’m waiting for my investiture date.
    I have two questions.
    Is it possible for extra guests to come in to the investiture and if not can extra guests come into the palace grounds for photographs.

    • Congratulations – you’ll have a great time! They are strict about the three guests only rule, and I’m pretty sure that applies also to entrance into the palace. What I did, and most people do, I think, is invite special people to a meal afterwards so you can show off your medal and take photos. It’s not the palace but you’ll still be on a high. Hilary

    • Neil says:

      Hi you have to ask the chancellory who sent your invitation for an extra place I was successful in gaining an extra place for a family member no they will not admit others into the Palace for photos it’s an honour to be invited in. You will enjoy the day it was superb

  5. Pat Bolton says:

    This has been so useful for me, as I am waiting for my date, is there a lot of standing around, as I will struggle with this due to back problems.

    • Andy says:

      Pat, you can be standing around for quite a while and as I recall there weren’t many chairs in the waiting area, however the palace staff were wonderful and I’m pretty sure that if you requested a chair in advance they will make sure they have one for you… just don’t sit on the big gold one at the end of the room 😉

  6. The Mrs. says:

    Have really enjoyed reading this — and the comments. Can anyone tell me if female guests normally wear hats? And also, do people bring young children? (Ours are 3 and 7 — well I suppose our daughter will be nearly four by the time it comes around). Many thanks.

    • The instructions you’ll receive does say that the ceremony is unsuitable for children under 5… which is the nice way the Pa;ace sys “No under 5’s allowed” 😉 For guests they can be sitting in place for up to two hours so it’s understandable… I know mine couldn’t sit still for that long. We were lucky in that we have family in London who were able to keep our 2 & 3 year old entertained and they joined us afterwards for the official photographs.

  7. Sheila says:

    Really helpful – thank you! Currently torn between gardening and looking after my nails. Having been persuaded that an outfit I had for my daughter’s wedding will be suitable, my big worry is shoes. I am not used to heels and my feet are not the shape of almost all shoes in the shops. Does anyone look at your feet? Were they in your video? Do you have any advice?

    • wear sensible shoes 🙂

      We were standing waiting for over an hour and half before we were finally called. Was fine for us recipients as we were all in an ante room chatting merrily and swapping stories… our guests on the other hand were required to be of sterner stuff having to sit in silence for two hours watching the seemingly never ending line of people shaking hands with HRH.

      Also… check the weather forecast. The official photographs outside in the courtyard took ages and the temperature was below zero… not ideal when you have two children aged 2 and 3.

  8. Thank you for your very amusing story. I am just 7 days away from my NYE Honour being made public. You are spot on with all those emotions.

    Aitch – not quite OBE!

  9. Andy says:

    I had a really good chuckle a this. It’s amazing what goes through your mind. I thought I must stop biting my nails as I wouldn’t want to shake HM’s hand with tatty looking finger ends… that’s actually kept me awake at night 😉

    and for us gentlemen… is a morning suit over the top? Will I be the only one in a morning suit and looking like a prize plum? Oh but what the heck… how often does this happen to you… prize plum it is 🙂

  10. Eileen says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I had the honour of receiving an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours on June 16th 2012. I am now at the stage where I am waiting for my date to travel to receive my award. So I have read all of your story with much excitment and have taken in all of your advice. so thank you

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