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Following the announcement of the New Years Honour’s list in the ‘London Gazette’, which I have subsequently discovered, the military refer to as being ‘Gazetted’, I was often asked “when are you going to the Palace?” or “are you going to meet the Queen?” – questions which I didn’t know the answer to.
When it comes to communication with Buckingham Palace, it is very much a ‘need to know basis’. When I received a letter in November saying I was to be awarded an MBE all it said was “you will be contacted at a later date with arrangements for your award” - Throughout the early part of the year I received many letters of congratulations, every time I opened one I was waiting for some information from the Palace. In the meantime, some of my teammates had already been told their date and were getting their suits dry cleaned and shirts pressed.
In March I received notice that I had been invited to Buckingham Palace to collect my award on April 25th. But, no news as to which royal would be presenting the awards.
I arrived with my parents and girlfriend, promptly at 10:00am. I was given a parking permit for the day, but assumed we would be tucked away somewhere, this wasn’t to be the case. Driving straight through the front gates of Buckingham Palace was definitely a highlight (and some rather good advertising). The crowds of tourists were still building but after a thorough check of the car, and guests alike, we were passed the gates a being directed towards the courtyard.
Upon entering the Palace we were split up - with guests being seated in the Ballroom and recipients being ushered to another rather grand room. Before we had taken two steps or more, each of us were placed a pin on our jackets where the medal would be hung. In this grand room with historical hand painted pictures we had chance to talk to other recipients and more importantly be given a dress rehearsal of what we needed to do, something that I was a little bit apprehensive about. But it was amazing to speak with the other recipients and see some familiar faces from Team GB.
It was hugely humbling to be in the same room with such amazing and inspirational people and it quickly dawned on me the huge honour of what I was about to receive. I can only speak for myself but I can imagine many people feel the same way especially the small amount of athletes that were present. The amazing thing about the people gathered in this room is that none of them set out in their lives with the ambition of becoming a Commander, Officer or a Member of the British Empire. It is simply recognition of some amazing achievements in their own fields, which they are hugely passionate about and many have dedicated their lives to. Looking through their achievements you want to know more about the how and why, but it simply states services to the Ministry of Defense, services to Disadvantaged Children Abroad or services to Health and Care, slightly more impressive than services to Rowing! Like I said, these awards are recognition of years, decades even, of dedication and devotion to a cause, many with no pursuit of personal gain. So to be receiving an award at the age of 28 after achieving my own goal of Olympic Gold again highlighted the huge occasion.
Halting the chat between recipients we were given the announcement that it was to be HRH Princess Anne presenting the awards and given a thorough demonstration of what we needed to do. The walk, the pause, the bow (or curtsey) and the return. It would seem quite fitting that the aforementioned Royal would be presenting the awards. Following her visit to Robert Welch for delivery of their Queen's Award this was not to be our first meeting.
We were called by name to pass through the hallways of Buckingham Palace before arriving at a side door to the ball room. One by one we were ushered into position. I waited patiently standing in front of 270 guests waiting for my team mate to finish his conversation with Princess Anne. I made my way into position, completed my bow and shortly after had a medal placed on the waiting pin on my lapel.
It became apparent pretty quickly that Princess Anne had remembered our last encounter, which so happened to be in Chipping Campden. “A not so unfamiliar face” - as ever HRH was very engaging and asked about my time in Rio, my team mates and my plans for the future. Ensuring I did not turn my back, I returned, bowed and left out of the opposing door to which I entered. The medal was quickly removed, placed in a box and I before I knew it I was sat at the back of the ballroom watching the remaining recipients collect their awards.
Proceedings came to a close and all recipients and guests gathered outside for the obligatory photos. As people started to leave I started to realize that the courtyard was slowly emptying, leaving one vehicle in prime location!
As we left the Palace, we exited out of the main gates, where the crowds were substantially larger than earlier. There was a sea of phones as the crowds parted to let us pass, I think they were expecting someone rather important, the initial excitement quickly subdued but none the less we enjoyed our moment of fame.
It was a very special day for my family and I, one which will last in our memories forever. Receiving this award has really put a silver lining to an amazing year. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine any of the last 12 months would have happened the way it has.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last few years and the many before.