In Short: Impressed.
In 1991 my employer, the largest telecommunications company in the U.K., came to an agreement with the University of London to run a new type of Master of Science degree specifically for the company’s employees. All lectures and tutorials would take place at the company’s facility in East Anglia. I was amongst the first batch of students to graduate.
There were 30 of us and a special graduation ceremony was arranged just for us. The degrees were given by HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II. There is a strict protocol to be observed when meeting a member of the Royal Family. For example: do not touch them when you speak, do not approach them, let them approach you, do not interrupt them and so on. We were briefed on all this beforehand.
I later learned that the course organisers and lecturers had a separate briefing in which Princess Anne herself, told them not to try to speak to her because she wanted to converse with every graduate, not members of staff.
When the ceremony started the Princess was introduced to us and stood centre stage. In front of her was a stool with raised handles on each side. After the speeches by representatives from the university and the company, each graduate was called up by name. We had to kneel on the stool and then, instead of being given a rolled-up certificate, we each had our hood placed over our shoulders by Princess Anne. Because my surname begins with the letter A, I was the first to be presented.
Having placed my hood she spent a short time asking me how the course had gone, did it take up a lot my time over the three years of study, and how I had coped with a return to studying — I was obviously the oldest of the students graduating.
When the ceremony was over we all retired to a hall for a finger buffet, whilst Princess Anne circulated and spoke to every graduate. I was accompanied by my wife and my parents as my guests. Anne came and spoke to us all for almost ten minutes. She asked about where we lived, our children, my work and other subjects. She gave the appearance of being really interested in what we said.
She surprised me with her knowledge. For example she asked my parents where they lived, and they replied naming a small village on the outskirts of Manchester, North West England. She immediately replied, “You will be under the flight path for Manchester Airport.” To have heard of their village was surprising, to know how it related to the airport was amazing. She is clearly sharp and knowledgeable.
My wife had for a few years volunteered with a charity called Riding For The Disabled, of which Princess Anne is the President. This opened another area of discussion, and she had many questions about my wife’s experience with that.
She was easy to talk to and showed a real interest in us and what we had done. I must say I was greatly impressed by her.
Michael Astbury is retired after 42 years in the telecommunication industry. He now volunteers at Tools With A Mission, a British charity recycling tools to provide livelihood creation in Africa.
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