A Loyal Toast

Issue 80

Reflecting on the momentous Jubilee celebrations and how fortunate I am to have met Our Majesty the Queen on a few occasions over the years. From being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace to attending Galas and the most memorable and daunting experience at St Pauls in 2017.

The 23rd and 24th May 2017 were meant to be one of the most exhilarating and exciting days of my life. And they were. However, the day before on the 22nd May 2017, was also one of the darkest days of our United Kingdom. An attack at Manchester Arena that took a number of young innocent lives. Coupled with the 20th May which is the date the most amazing and inspirational person in my life – my late mother – sadly passed away. For both good and bad these dates I will never forget.

2017 was the 100th Anniversary of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire which was created by King George V to reward both civilian and military wartime service. Subsequently the honour was changed and bestowed for meritorious service to the government, in peace as well as gallantry in wartime. There are over 100,000 living members of the Order and I am extremely proud of being a Commander of the Order.

The 100th Anniversary Celebration was taking place at St Pauls and a ballot was held for members of the Order to attend. As a Commander I had successfully submitted an application to join and was invited to the ceremony. However, much to my surprise I was asked to join the procession and say a short bidding prayer as part of the service.

I had never been inside St Pauls Cathedral, nor had I considered the gravitas of the event, prior to attending. On the morning of the 23rd May I got the red-eye train to London and onto St Pauls for the rehearsals. I will never forget the feeling of awe and wonder upon entering the Cathedral. What an incredibly beautiful vast space and place filled with centuries of history and heritage.

In front of me were approximately 40 members of the Order including the Knights Bachelor, Bishop of London and numerous others, all dressed in their respective regalia preparing for the ceremony. This included two members standing in for Our Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip. And it was at this point that I realised how big of a deal the ceremony was.

Understandably the following day, the mood had changed slightly by the Manchester attacks and the security surrounding the event enhanced. Nonetheless, the pomp and ceremony remained astonishing. The look of disbelief on the usher’s face as I showed them my ticket which had an allocated number on the front row a few seats away from our Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip.

When I got up to share a prayer with Our Majesty in front of 2,000 dignitaries, it was one of the most daunting and scariest experiences ever, but equally one that brought me immense joy and pride. Here was a Geordie Asian born on the banks of the Tyne, coming from abject poverty and now stood at the front of St Pauls sharing a prayer with Royalty. I remember looking up and thinking of my late mother, how I wish she could see me, but in my heart, I knew she was looking down on me.

The whole wonderful experience is something that I will never forget, especially as I have the video too. I am so proud, honoured and humbled by my everlasting royal experiences. As we rejoice the 70 years of Our Majesty’s reign, let us all collectively raise a loyal royal toast to acknowledge the landmark celebration. God Save Our Queen.

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