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Lessons from a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace
By David Ferrers
I should start by explaining how I came to be invited to Buckingham Palace. The journey began some four years ago when I signed up for an internet marketing course with the late Cory Rudl. Cory asked us, "when you become successful as a result of this course, how are you going to give something back?" I thought about the question for several days and eventually decided that I could give best value by using my business coaching skills to become a mentor for the Prince's Trust.
The Prince's Trust provides support to young people who have made a poor start to their adult lives. Most of them have experimented with drugs or been in trouble with the law. They have then found difficulty in obtaining employment. Some decide to start their own businesses as a way of earning a living. The Trust helps them build a business plan, supplies low-cost loans and provides a mentor to guide their first tentative steps into the commercial world. At present I mentor three young people, a plasterer, a web designer and a market stall holder.
To celebrate the 30th birthday of The Trust the Prince of Wales, who started the Trust and still takes a very active interest in it, decided to hold a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and invite volunteer helpers. My wife Sally and I were very excited when my invitation came through the post. We felt that it was a great honour and privilege to be invited and we determined to enjoy the day.
The moment we joined the queue to file across the inner courtyard we became aware of the excitement and respect that everyone felt. All the ladies were smartly dressed and there were some very elegant hats on display. The men were, I felt, a bit of a disappointment. We were told on the invitation that we had the choice of wearing a morning suit or a lounge suit. Only about 10 percent wore morning suits, some didn't even bother to wear a tie. I wore my morning suit because I wanted to look my best and I wanted to feel that it was a special occasion, like a wedding. I also felt that it was appropriate as my wife had gone to a lot of trouble to look her best.
We were fortunate enough to have a nice sunny day with a cooling north east breeze when we arrived at 2 pm. Once you pass through the Palace you come out onto a wide terrace overlooking the huge lawn stretching up to the lake. On the left was a huge marquee where tea was served. The sandwiches and cakes were delicious. I had a cucumber and an egg sandwich, a smoked salmon blini, a small scone with cream and jam and a coffee clair washed down with superb iced coffee. I hadn't expected the catering to be of such a high standard for so many people.
Outside of the main marquee there were tables and chairs where we sat to enjoy our tea. A steel band, Ebony, played while we ate. And as we set off to stroll around the garden a military band struck up with popular songs.
We had only just started to explore the gardens when the Yeomen of the Guard arrived to 'hold ground'. I had no idea what 'hold ground' meant when I read the term in the programme provided with our invitation. If you're as ignorant as me, it means that they take up positions to indicate where you can stand, next to and behind them, to form a line down which Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall walked very slowly, talking to their guests. The Royals spent the best part of two hours talking with everyone. It was very impressive the amount of interest they showed.
We were fortunate enough to be standing next to a couple from Liverpool. The wife was a walking encyclopaedia of who's who. She pointed out all the celebrities to us - Rod Stewart, David Frost and a host of others who, like us, help with the work of the Trust.
Finally, when the Duke and Duchess went into the Royal Marquee to have their tea, we set off to explore the extensive and very well tended gardens. It's extraordinary that, in the very heart of London you cannot hear a whisper of traffic noise in the center of the garden. Up at the far end by the tennis court, nearest to Hyde Park Corner the traffic noise is quite intrusive, but around the lake all is quiet.
So what did we get from the occasion? There was a wonderful sense of having been invited to something really special. Everyone we met and spoke, also to felt this. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Afterwards when I thought about it quietly, I felt that I had been privileged. It made me feel a bit special. It gave us both a shared, happy memory that will always be part of who we are and what we have experienced in our life together. Also, having been on a 'happiness high' for an entire afternoon, helped to reinforce my habit of feeling happy.
Once again I had been reminded of how lucky we 'Brits' are to have a Royal Family who provide figureheads for our nation and give us all a secure sense of belonging. It is wonderful that they honour their people and take the trouble to say 'thank you' to us for the small services that we provide for other members of the family. All families can learn from their example. It taught me, once again, and in a unique way, of the importance of rewarding people with recognition, of honouring them, and treating them with respect.
David Ferrers has been a full time professional leadership coach for over 20 years. During that time he has helped managers at all levels in major corporations and government departments to improve their performance.