Professor Joe Goldblatt
“Are you available as Chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association to travel to Buckingham Palace on 9 March 2023 to meet His Majesty the King?” When the executive assistant to the Lord Provost (Mayor) of the City of Edinburgh / Clerk to the Lieutenancy ushered me into her office to discuss my availability I was so stunned by her query that I asked no further questions. I did ask if I could please first check with my wife to insure she did not have any other plans on this day because officially, she is my reigning monarch in our wee palace.
After checking with her majesty and receiving her blessing, I notified the Lord Provost that I would be honoured to attend. Once again, I did not think to ask any further questions except for the basics such as dress code, timings, transport, and other logistical details.
When I received the confirmation e – mail of my invitation that was followed by an engraved invitation from the Lord Chamberlain at Buckingham Palace I began to wonder about what was the real purpose of this journey to London. Therefore, as a retired academic, I exercised my old research muscles and went to work.
Through my research, I soon discovered that the ceremony that I would attend was very historic and indeed rare. It was only conducted ten times during the 70 year reign of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and had not been held during the previous ten years. This would be the first time that our new monarch, His Majesty King Charles III, would conduct this ceremony and I had been invited to join a small delegation of other leaders to represent our city.
To mark his accession to the throne, 27 privileged bodies including Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdein Universities, the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Church of England, the Bank of England, and our delegation, the City of Edinburgh Corporation, all presented loyal addresses to our new King.
Leading our delegation of four women and myself was our highly respected Lord Provost, the Right Honourable Robert Aldridge. I immediately noticed as our train sped toward London that our group was composed of diverse, experienced, and very hard working third sector leaders within education, faith, mental health, volunteer, and Ukranian displaced persons. We immediately bonded over our shared pride in representing the historic city we all greatly respect and love at this rarely held ceremony.
Upon arriving at Kings Cross Rail Station we almost immediately went underground to board the Piccadilly line tube train to take us to Green Park. When we emerged from the tube station we immediately witnessed Buckingham Palace rising majestically before us in the distance. The palace was originally constructed for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 and then acquired by King George III in 1761 as a residence for Queen Charlotte and it immediately became known as the Queen’s House.
The house was greatly enlarged in the nineteenth century and became the official London residence of the royal family in 1837 when HM Queen Victoria moved in. Buckingham Palace has the largest private gardens in London and contains 775 rooms. During our visit we progressed through only four of these rooms, if you do not count the loos.
Each year hundreds of events are conducted in this historic building and to my surprise the many palace staff members welcomed us with such warmth and kindness that I felt as though I was their only guest that day or even that year. All questions were politely answered, and when needing directions we were accompanied by individuals who escorted me to the correct location. You could feel very deeply with every foot step the storied history of this grand home.
Following a briefing from one of the palace ushers, the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra performed several musical preludes from high above in a balcony in the rear of the palatial ballroom. Suddenly, upon hearing several loud raps on the floor, hundreds of heads turned around looking to the rear doors of the room as the Yeoman of the Guard were led forward with the solemn rythmic tapping of their leader’s stick.
The guests rose as His Majesty the King next entered with his hands placed securely behind him and he was followed by the Lord Chamberlain and other courtiers. Although there were two large throne chairs at the front of the room the King chose to sit in a somewhat ordinary, although ornate, chair near the front of the stage.
The orchestra then performed God Save the King and upon its conclusion the King invited us to be seated. I confess that I stumbled through our national anthem and I eventually remembered to properly substitute King for Queen.
The Lord Chamberlain is responsible for all ceremonies at the palace and he provided us with a detailed history of the rare ceremony that would soon unfold before us. He described that throughout history there have only been 27 privileged organisations who are invited to speak directly to the monarch and then he introduced the leader of Oxford University to address the King.
One after another each delegation leader addressed the King by expressing their condolences upon the recent loss of his mother and our late Queen, wishing him well upon his accession, pledging their loyalty to the crown and highlighting the achievements of their organisation.
I was particularly proud of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh’s address because he spoke of the diverse tartan of human experience represented in Scotland’s capital city and that was exemplified by the five individuals who were sitting before the King. The Lord Provost’s words were warmly delivered with confidence and pride and they demonstrated the authenticity of our city’s aims and ambitions in terms of education, health and social care, inclusivity, culture, and faith.
Following the final loyal address, the King rose and offered his appreciation to the 27 organisation represented in the room and then stated that the health of a nation is not just measured by the economy it is also measured by the contributions of the persons seated in the room. He then thanked us for our many contributions to creating positive well – being within our country. I noticed that more than one my fellow guests squared their shoulders, raised their chests high with enormous pride and smiled broadly upon receiving this acclaim from our King.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, once again we rose and sang God Save the King and this time I could tell from the voices that were raised even more loudly around me with reverence and indeed loyalty, that everyone in the room, including the King, had been positively and emotionally transformed by this unique ceremony.
We slowly made our way to the Picture Gallery where the King would greet us at a reception. Almost immediately after entering this room, dozens of palace catering staff entered carrying crystal champagne flutes and sterling silver platters over flowing with delicious canapes. I cheekily asked one of the very professional servers if they knew how many events were annually held in this room. The young woman smiled and said, “No sir, I do not know this.” She then smiled and immediately moved onto other guests while successfully keeping yet another palace secret.
Within five minutes of our entering the Picture Gallery, the King walked toward our group of Scots and told us it was wonderful that we were all standing together to greet him as it made it much easier for him to know the groups that he is greeting. Then his equerry approached different members of our group and invited them to meet the King. One of our group members was originally from the Republic of the Congo and the King immediately engaged her in conversation about his personal memories of former President Mobuto.
The Lord Provost then introduced me to the King and proudly spoke about the work the Edinburgh Interfaith Association is doing for all faiths and none to promote education, understanding, respect, compassion and love in our city. The King who proudly identifies himself as the ‘defender of all faiths’, extended his warm hand and I told him that I was very pleased that the Lord Provost of Edinburgh is also the first Lord Provost to ever become a member of yhe board of Scotland’s oldest interfaith association and the King nodded confirming his satisfaction with this historic first for our city.
Then, perhaps realising that he was about to ignore his other guests due to the interesting Scots he had first met, he raised his wine glass and said with a twinkle in his eye “Slainte” which is the Scottish toast for “To your good health!” As he silently moved from group to group I followed him for a few minutes with my eyes and noticed that with each person he met he brought with him a genuine sense of deep personal interest, occassional laughter, and enthusiasm as he moved throughout the large room.
The Picture Gallery contains priceless works of art by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto, van Dyck and many others whose work I had only seen before this moment in the world’s greatest museums. As I strolled through the room viewing the masterpieces I noted well known individuals such as the Mayor of London, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and many others in rapt conversation with one another also chatting with the less well known guests. I was surprised and delighted by how approachable these leaders of faith. the ecoomic, and politics were as my fellow guests queried them about their opinions regarding current events.
However, my primary interest were the masterpieces in this room and eventually one of the polite ushers helped me notice that I was among the final three guests remaining in the large empty room. He then gently and firmly showed me the way to the exit, so that perhaps another group of priviliged guests could soon continue the long historic tradition of being received by the monarch in Buckingham Palace.
Although it was the thrill of a life time to stand in the same room as the Head of State of Great Britain, my greater pleasure and appreciation was the opportunity to travel with and come to know and respect the four women leaders in education, displaced persons, volunteering, and mental health as well as the first citizen of my city, the Lord Provost. Thanks to the seamless advance planning by the Executive Assistant and the expert coordination by the City Officer who accompanied us, my happy memories of this day shall remain with me for the rest of my life.
I returned to Edinburgh even more deeply commited to strive to demonstrate the same level of servant leadership described by the King when he said to us “You underpin the very foundations upon which our country is built. In doing so, you are admired around the world for your contributions to public life. You remind us of an essential truth – that a nation’s wealth and strength can be found, beyond the size of its economy or its place in the geopolitical landscape, in the values that it embodies – mutual respect, diversity, tolerance, fairness and friendship.”
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot