It was a day I shall never forget. For although I had been to Buckingham Palace before to collect my M.B.E., being elevated to a Dame Commander (i.e. being Knighted) is about the most prestigious honour an ordinary British Citizen can get, and as such one has preferential treatment as soon as you step beyond the Palace Gates, armed with identification documents and the official Invitation for yourself and your three Guests; my two daughters, Jill and Angela, and my son-in-law, Angela’s husband, Robert Carr-Hartley. Being inside Buckingham Palace is an awesome experience in itself, for it is so huge and grand, encompassed by a strong sense of Britain’s long history and filled with an atmosphere of Britain’s glorious past. Priceless paintings, many of previous Monarchs identified with important historical events adorn the ornate walls. Magnificent gilt decorated ceilings, panelled walls with alabaster statues in alcoves, wonderful antique furniture, breath-taking carpets and precious ornaments and vases are a feast for the eyes wherever one looks.
As soon as one enters the Palace Courtyard, one is shepherded every inch of the way. One is then given detailed instructions of exactly what one will be expected to do, i.e. – wait at the right hand entrance to the Hall having been escorted there by a Palace Attendant, walk to the Equerry positioned in the Hall when told to do so, pause until you hear your surname announced, along with why you are being honoured, then walk to the middle of the hall opposite the dais, turn to the right, curtsey, walk forward for your decorations to be pinned to special holders fitted to your garment, this time by Prince Charles, enjoy a brief chat with the Prince, shake his extended hand after the time allocated for this, walk backwards four paces, curtsey again, and walk out of the opposite door. Meanwhile, the band of the Household Cavalry is playing classical music from a balcony at the back of the Hall which is filled with the Guests of all the various medal recipients, each recipient allowed to invite just three. Everyone within the Palace is exceedingly friendly, courteous and helpful, military men in full dress uniform according to their Regimental status, and the ladies in smart formal suits. Having received my DBE, upon leaving the Hall, I was delighted to find at least three foster-parents of our orphaned elephants amongst the Palace Staff! Thereafter, I was escorted to a reserved seat amongst the recipients’ guests, and could then enjoy the presentation of all the other medals and orders to the people that followed. Being the only “Dame” on this particular occasion, I was first in. The Prince was extremely well informed, and needed no briefing about the plight of wildlife, and particularly elephants in today’s world. Without prompting, he knew what each and every person honoured who followed had achieved in life, which was extremely impressive, since there were about 150 people that came after me.
That evening, the Reception in my Honour at the Royal Airforce Club, Piccadilly, was equally as memorable, filled with some 230 friends, conservation colleagues, relatives and celebrities such as Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Rula Lenska, who donated the proceeds of her Big Brother appearance to the Trust, Virginia McKenna and David Shepherd, both close friends of old and the famous sculptor Steve Winterburn who gave me a small bronze of our little elephant “Maluti” who will live in our hearts forever. David Shepherd gave a very witty and flattering speech about me to which I had to answer, and it was, indeed, very special to be surrounded by so many close colleagues and friends. I was extremely touched and honoured that so many people made the effort to share my special day with me in London, and that the Board Members of our US Friends organisation travelled to England from America, and some from even further afield, especially to be there with me. I am extremely indebted to the Public Relations Company, Koan, who donated their services for both the organisation and service at my Reception, to our U.K. Director, Rob Brandford who organised it all and to Doolhof Estate and Lazy Leopard Wines Ltd., for their gift of a Champagne Pack plus their donation of Wine in support of the evening. Also to Gary Roberts, a Professional Photographer, who so expertly took the photos to record this memorable evening for us free of charge.
Finally, I am also very proud of Angela, my younger daughter, who painted five watercolours especially for sale on the evening, and by so doing paid for the entire Reception, with a little more to spare for the elephants. Bless you, and thank you, “Pip”. I am grateful to all who so generously dipped into their pockets to purchase these in support of the evening and as a donation to the Trust.
I end with a huge thank you to all who were present.