My Royalist-Jamaican mother would have been smiling down at me, from her seat on the right-hand side of God, as the taxi arrived to pick me up to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
The idiot Eastern European driver parks his car at a bus stop two hundred metres from my flat, so I am forced to stride up to him suited and booted with dreadlocks flowing in the cold evening wind. He looks almost straight through me just as I reach the stationary Mercedes and starts the engine to pull out into the street. I quickly knock on his window and manage to open the passenger door as he steps on the brakes.
“Are you the car for Buckingham Palace?”
“Hurry up and get in, man,” he shouts back at me, “I’m parked in a bus lane. It’s a fifty pound fine!”
“I didn’t tell anyone to ask you to park here. I told your controller exactly where my flat is.”
“I was looking at Beaufort Mansions,” he offers up as a feeble excuse.
“That’s your problem, mate, that’s not where I live.”
“My problem?” he says with a snarl. “If I had known there was a problem parking, I would not have accepted this job.”
Well, F***-off then, I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t want to be late to meet Her Maj, so I got into the car and uncharacteristically bit my tongue.
“Just drive on, will you!” I said in my most obnoxious tone.
He turned to look at me then and slapped me in the face with a breath so foul that I immediately had to open the window. “Damn!” I said, but even the chill in the air couldn’t kill the stench.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing,” I replied, “I’ll need a cash-point on the way.”
Had he been a little more friendly, I might even have offered him one of the mints in my pocket. However, by the time we reached our destination to be guided through the main gates of Buckingham Palace by the security police, he had completely changed his attitude.
“Are you a little nervous about meeting the Queen?”
“I am a little bit,” I reply, grudgingly.
“Don’t worry, my friend, you won’t be alone.”
My friend now, is it? – I thought – he must be gearing up to charge me that little bit extra now he thinks I’ve got friends in high places. He was, and he did, £20 from Chelsea to Buckingham Palace just down the road, and I couldn’t even be bothered to argue with him.
“Will your driver be returning to fetch you afterwards?” said a policeman opening my door.
“No,” said I. “He can go.” And I smiled to myself at the absurdity of it.
We are welcomed into the palace and ushered upstairs and through halls into the Picture Gallery, a long, top-lit room about 50-metres in-depth, which serves as a corridor linking a series of smaller staterooms. I’m certainly amongst good company here. There are people I’ve known and worked with in the past, plus some others I’ve only read about or seen on television. Newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald for example; Booker Prize-winning author Ben Oki (making what seemed like some staged entry, armed with an ornate Zulu walking cane); fashion designer Oswald Boateng along with his following; the effervescent Linda Bellos, and many more recognisable faces whose names escape me.
While others are furiously networking, what strikes me most about this central area is not the eminent guest list, but its gallery hung with classic works of art. There are paintings by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens, Vermeer, and other multi-million pound masterpieces by painters I’ve never even heard of before. Leading from here are the Throne Room and the Green Drawing Room in which I can just about glimpse paintings of various royal ancestors because we are not allowed too much wandering around just yet. It is in these very formal rooms – used only for ceremonial and official purposes – in which we are to be entertained on Champagne and canopies for the rest of the evening.
We don’t know quite why but for some reason the room falls strangely quiet as guests start to form a queue leading into one of the stately side rooms. I’m chatting to a former Miss Universe contestant (the ex-Miss Zimbabwe) when we too decide to get in line. In front of us is a blonde from the Foreign Office who suddenly starts to hyperventilate the minute we draw closer to what seems to be the focal point of everyone’s attention.
“Oh my God…Oh my God! It’s her – she’s there. You go first, “she says.
From where I’m standing, I can see the Queen alongside the Duke of Edinburgh through a crack in the door ahead.
“Calm down, woman,” I try to tell the Foreign Office blonde. “It’s only Her Maj. Ladies before gentlemen,” but my own heart was racing now ten to the dozen.
“What do you say to the Queen?” she says.
“Couldn’t tell you, but I’ve heard you wait for the Queen to talk to you.”
“I thought they’d made a mistake when I got the gold-embossed invitation. I wanted to scan it and put it on my Facebook profile, but my friends would only accuse me attention seeking.”
“Exactly! I had the same thought,” I said, “but I’ve gone one better. I’m gonna have mine framed in the bathroom opposite my throne. So, when I’m sitting on the throne, I can remember back to when I met the Queen who sits on the throne of England.”
The woman from the Foreign Office laughed out loud, but in the course of events, the Queen passed her by with a quick handshake, and then, it was my turn. From what seemed like a great distance away, but was, in fact, less than two metres, a man in a silly looking uniform announced, “Mister Paul Bo-a-che, ma’am.”
I had half expected him to mispronounce my name, and so as I walked towards the Queen and she extended her hand, I took it, and shook it, and said off the top of my head, “Your majesty, ma’am, I’m delighted to meet you.” As I did so, I bowed, and my dreadlocks swept forward. The Queen pulled back her head almost unconsciously and eyed me with a sideward glance. Then in that peculiar high-pitched Spitting Image tone inside my head, she said, “Oh – and what do you do here?”
That’s when I started to stutter. I had understood each word the Queen had spoken, but I was having difficulty computing the question. I was born here…I live here…I don’t work here, your majesty, I wanted to say. So, what do you mean?
But in the end, I simply answered, “I…I…I…I’m a writer, ma’am,” just like it said on my gold-embossed name tag.
“Oh, really,” the Queen replied, in the same deadpan tone in my head, and that then was my cue to move along. I was now standing before the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Good evening, Your Royal Highness,” I said.
“So what kind of things do you write?” he asked.
“I am originally a playwright, but these days, I’ll write just about anything I’m paid to do.”
“Do you have anything on at the moment?”
“Not at the moment, but I am currently writing my first novel.”
“Very good,” he says and turns towards the ex-Miss Zimbabwe. “So, do you write with him?”
“Oh – No!” she says. “I’m a model.”
“Right you are.” says the prince with a devilish smile.
The rest I didn’t hear because I was being directed back into The Gallery Room where we were now able to get up close and personal with all the paintings on display.
It all happened so quickly anyway that I felt slightly giddy. Everything around me looked surreal as if I had just fallen down the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland. Not a drop of alcohol had I touched so far, but now I needed a drink if only to get things in perspective.
“What would you like, sir? A glass of Champagne or some freshly squeezed Sandringham orange juice?
“You have your own orchards?”
“Yes, sir. Only the best for the Queen.”
“I’ll try a mix of both, may I?”
“Certainly. Thank you, sir.”
How the blued-blooded idle rich live, huh? You’d think that they would all be stuffy and boring, but I had just a great conversation with one of the Ladies in Waiting who talked very eloquently about living in Washington DC and the poverty and racism she witnessed there.
Then this very charming Edward Griffiths spoke to me for a good long while about how they selected the guests for this evening’s event. I was chosen for my sexual health promotion work with African communities, including my educational dramas for young people and the publications for black gay and bisexual men. The Royal Household has a team of researchers, apparently, who go out looking for distinguished people from all walks of life (arts, sports, music, science, and so on) to attend these types of functions. He had been a high-flyer in the hotel industry before being hand-picked to head the hospitalities team. I was impressed.
So, there I am minding my own business and checking out the paintings when up walks Prince Michael of Kent, looking every bit as you might expect a member of the British royalty to look.
“It’s good to see a Rastafarian here this evening.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Rastafarian,” I said.
“I’m just a humble writer with a hairstyle I like. I may have certain sympathies, and like Samson, my hair may symbolise my deeper roots and culture, but that’s as far as it goes. In my eyes, even you could grow dreadlocks.”
“Not with my hairline.”
“I never thought I’d still have hair at my age. But I’ve just been admiring these amazing paintings on your walls. It must be great to wake up each morning and come down to see these in natural daylight.”
“You must be one of about five people in this room who has taken any notice of the art.”
“I can’t think why.”
“Are you an artist?”
“Not in the sense that I paint or sketch, but I’m a great admirer of beauty, in all its forms.”
“My wife is a great admirer of art.”
“So I’ve heard. Is she here tonight?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Oh, I’ve always thought your wife a very handsome woman.” Then just as I thought I’d said too much, I decided to change track. “It’s funny, I’m currently writing a book based partly on my mother’s diaries, and it’s amazing just how much people of her generation knew about your family. I’m amazed because I know so little about the royal household.”
“How far have you got with your book?”
“Not as far as I’d like, but it’s coming along.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s going to be just great.”
“Can I put that as a quote from you on the back sleeve?”
“It’s nice talking to you,” he smiles. “Have a good evening.”
“And you, Prince Michael.”
He saunters off into the middle of the room where all and sundry surround the Queen while I begin to feel that it’s time I should be heading home. I stepped outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, and within a minute or two I am riding home in the back of a London Black Cab.
“Were you in there at Buckingham Palace meeting the Queen, mate?” asked the handsome blonde driver, glaring at me through his rear-view mirror.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Surprisingly more than I thought I would.”
“I’m no royalist, me,” he said. “Can’t stand the lot of ‘em.”
“Harry is not too bad, cos he’s not really one of them, is he? But Prince Charles is a shape-shifting Lizard.”
“The British royal family, mate, they’re all descended from a reptilian bloodline.”
“Okay,” I said, rolling my eyes and turning towards the window.
“Ain’t you read the book by David Icke?”
I shook my head, trying now not to laugh, but Blondie continues his far-fetched tale all the way home.