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World Owl Trust - leading the World in Owl Conservation
Sunday 21st December, 2014

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Honorary President’s Investiture at Buckingham Palace

Tony with his MBE
Tony with his MBE

On 8th December Tony and I were up early in preparation for the ‘Big Event’ in London the following day. As this was to be such a special occasion there was a little more than the usual panic as we left the house. Had we got our train tickets, our passports for security checking at the Palace, our passes to get in and our personal invitations?

Off we set through snow covered countryside, picking up Tony’s eldest daughter, Sue, on the way and dropping off our faithful Collie, Ben, at the kennels. It was cold: -8c according to the car thermometer and when we arrived at Oxenholme station for our direct line train to London it felt even colder as the wind whipped down the platform. We were in good time for our 12.20 train. However, on checking, we discovered the train was still in Glasgow station! After waiting and fretting a little we eventually learnt that our train was still at Glasgow due to ice on the line and signals being frozen. It wasn’t known when it would set off, if at all that day. We retreated to the waiting room. At least it was warm in there.

Through a series of what I would call ‘Universe’, some would call ‘fate’, or was it just fortunate coincidences, we learned there was a train to Manchester imminent which we boarded and discovered we had 5 minutes on arrival to catch a train to London. So there was a lot of rushing and collecting of things, finding the right platform at Manchester, then suddenly all was well and we arrived in London only 30 minutes later than if we’d caught the original train.

The following morning, the 9th, we were up for an early breakfast and then came the event of putting on all the ‘posh’ clothes for the big day. Tony’s second daughter, Ann who lives in London, had joined us the previous evening and Sue, who has a Beauty Therapy salon, did our makeovers.

Susan Gabbert, Tony Warburton, Jenny Thurston, Ann Warburton
Susan Gabbert, Tony Warburton, Jenny Thurston, Ann Warburton
Picture courtesy of Susan Gabbert

All ‘poshed up’ we left the hotel and stood on the pavement waiting for our pre-booked taxi. It didn’t come! We waited and waited. It was bitterly cold and also stunningly beautiful as we stood looking across Hyde Park with watery winter sun slanting through the silhouetted trees. But where was the taxi? Panic started to set in. If we were late, we wouldn’t be allowed in to the Palace.

Eventually the taxi was found, parked down a side street, although unfortunately the driver had omitted to tell anyone where he was! We also lost confidence somewhat when he resorted to an A-Z to find Buckingham Palace!

At last we were there and walking up to the main gates clutching our passports for checking. In no time we were through and walking across the courtyard to the main entrance. Outside the gates were scores of people all holding on to the railings and peering through in case they spotted someone famous. Daughter Ann whispered: ‘I feel really important’.

We walked in the main entrance through a beautiful hallway and up the grand staircase. On a semi landing were Christmas trees of varying sizes grouped together and each one was decorated with miniature crowns, complete with red velvet. There were people everywhere; Guides to point us in the right direction and at every turn of the stairs were Horse Guards in all their finery, each one standing to attention with their right arms outstretched holding their swords pointing to the ceiling.

When I saw the first Horse Guard I thought it was a life size model and he looked so magnificent with his white breeches, immaculate jacket, golden helmet and plume. Then the second Guard on the other side of the staircase moved slightly – they were real!

The grand staircase eventually went in two directions, Recipients going to the right and guests to the left. As we approached the ballroom a friendly guide told us we’d be lovely and warm when we got in there. We walked along corridors surrounded by beautiful paintings and mirrors, then into the room itself. As we sat down there seemed to be corridors and doorways leading off all over the place. The ceiling was so high with ornate carving and more beautiful paintings.

We were given a programme and scoured through all the names. When would we see Tony? As the names were in alphabetical order and Tony is a ‘W’ it meant almost at the end. We were fortunate to be sitting near the front and could easily see the red covered dais, the ornate throne and other chairs. After having the protocol explained to us, we settled down to wait for proceedings to begin.

The first two recipients both received knighthoods and there is a special stool which is brought in so they can kneel on one knee. It was all very interesting. There were some amazing stories of courage and endurance regarding, in particular, some members of the armed forces and many good deeds done for charity and in the community. I was rather puzzled though why certain members of the Inland Revenue gained MBE’s!

Tony receiving his MBE from HRH Prince Charles
Tony receiving his MBE from HRH Prince Charles

Recipients came one by one from a corridor on our left. An orchestra drawn from the Bands of the Guards Division had been playing softly throughout and as Tony appeared they started playing ‘Born Free’ which seemed really appropriate. Prince Charles was giving out the awards on that day and when it was Tony’s turn he said: ‘You’re the one I’ve been waiting for’ and they then proceeded to have a conversation about Barn Owls and Highgrove. Tony was thrilled.

In no time at all it was all over. As Tony said, it was a bit like going to a wedding, lots of preparation and anticipation and then over in a dream Was it real?

The next thing we needed to do was stand in the quadrangle to have our official photos taken. There was quite a queue and there were 160 recipients that day. To say the girls and I felt cold in our skimpy sleeveless dresses was an understatement. I briefly envied Tony in his smart suit and overcoat. It is a tribute to the photographer’s professionalism that there is no sign of shaking on our photos in spite of our shivering.

Eventually we made our way out of Buckingham Palace and were fortunate to find a taxi fairly quickly. We had a most interesting (?) journey to our hotel. At one point we were caught up amongst dozens of police vans all with flashing lights, yes it was the day of the student riots. Once we escaped that our ‘driver’ was positively hair raising. I know taxi drivers in London zoom in and out and round everything else, however we began to fear for our lives as we kept tumbling on top of each other in jumbled heaps as this ‘lady’ transported us along – and we did put our belts on in case you ask.

Later we made our way back to Cumbria and some sort of sanity. What a day! What an experience! We have memories that will last forever. As for Tony, we couldn’t be more pleased. He is so deserving of his award. He literally has dedicated his life to owls and their conservation and I am so happy that his passion and tireless work for what he believes in has been recognised.

Jenny Thurston

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