A night at the Palace to honor Charles Dickens
By Guest Blogger on March 13th, 2012
When this story came into my email, I knew you OOM readers would love to read it, too. So today, we’re this charming tale from Marion Lloyd, the publisher of Marion Lloyd Books — part of Scholastic UK — after she attended the 200th birthday celebration for Charles Dickens (who, it turns out, was her great great grandfather!). If you’re a fan of the Queen of England or Charles Dickens at all — or just a fan of a well-told story — read on!
As part of the 200th birthday celebrations for Charles Dickens in 2012, the Queen held a reception at Buckingham Palace on February 14th. Among the hundreds of guests from the worlds of literature, stage and screen, museums and universities, and many other walks of life, were seven members of the Dickens family with their partners. As one of his great-great grandchildren, all I have done to deserve my privileged connection is simply to be born, which obviously required no talent whatsoever. But never mind. My lack of distinction wasn’t going to get in the way of my one and only chance to see the Queen.
Opening the heavyweight invitation with its gold-embossed crown and accompanying security instructions and entrance passes was the first big thrill. On the night itself, my husband and I were determined to drive through the gates of the palace and up to the inner portico with our special coded windscreen sticker — rather than walking from the tube station, which would have been quicker! We booked a car from our local West London mini-cab firm. ‘Please send a smart one,’ I insisted. But Shepherds Bush Cars had run out of those, so a beaten-up Vauxhall with an excitable Egyptian driver arrived and bore us up to the gates of the palace where we held up a queue of black Bentleys as we struggled to open our intractable bonnet on the orders of the security police, and I couldn’t get out of the car at the grand entrance because my door was stuck. But nothing was going to spoil the glamour of the night, and we were soon pinning our royal name badges to our chests with the highly-coveted Orange Spot in the corner which meant we were marked out to meet Her Majesty.
The reception was held in a series of huge rooms off a wide gallery on the first floor, where we were gently guided, Ikea-style, in the same direction by handsome young footmen with trays of champagne. The organisation was immaculate, and every guest was efficiently passed through to a room where the Queen and Prince Philip shook their hands (after more footmen had removed the champagne from the hands, thank goodness!). After that, the Dickens family members were gathered in another gilded chamber to await the royal presence. As we formed a nervously excited line, who should scurry past us but Rowan Atkinson, at which we all got rather hysterical trying not to think about Mr Bean’s famous royal head-butting sketch….
Then the Queen appeared, and my brother Mark Dickens introduced each of us to her in turn. I had not expected to actually speak to the Queen, but when she fixed me with her very bright and beady eye and said, ‘So you’re the publisher!’ I launched into a comment about comparing the problems of protecting copyright in our digital age with Charles Dickens’ campaigns to establish writers’ copyright in Victorian times. Where did that suddenly spring from??
‘Hmm, digital, very interesting,’ murmured the Queen, and moved swiftly on, leaving me to realise I had completely forgotten to call her ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Your Majesty’. Oh dear.
It was of course a thrill and a privilege to meet the monarch, and later Prince Philip, who wandered up to us at the party afterwards to say hello. Both of them, she in her eighties and he in his nineties, were extraordinarily impressive; very upright and twinkly-eyed, and superbly experienced at their job of meeting thousands of people and saying a few well-chosen words to each of them which will never be forgotten. We felt very special to be singled out for the Queen’s attention, even though we hadn’t personally done anything distinguished to deserve it, and my pride in my amazing ancestor, whose writing continues to inspire millions of readers, has never been greater. We went on to enjoy more champagne and delicious canapés at the star-studded event, which was full of well-known actors who had played Dickens characters. We were politely ushered out long after the 8:00 deadline for the end of the party had passed, and the Queen had long disappeared to her private apartments and her welcoming Corgis, I presume. We wandered away across the great forecourt into the road outside, back to the real world, with our minds full of splendid, majestic images of a never-to-be forgotten occasion. – Marion Lloyd
Happy (belated) birthday to Dickens, and thanks to Marion for such a charming story!
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