A while ago, I received an email asking me if I would like to meet the Queen as a volunteer representative from Action on Hearing Loss at a reception to be held at St James’s Palace. This was to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Voluntary Awards, with sixty voluntary organisations across the UK, including Action on Hearing Loss, being recognised for their voluntary service during the Queen’s sixty-year reign. When I read the email, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be true. It must have been sent to the wrong person by mistake. Why would they want a hard of hearing person from Essex, who does voluntary work in his community, to represent them at such an auspicious event, even if I do feel passionate about it?
A couple of weeks later, I received a beautiful formal invitation sent from the Queen’s Master of the Household inviting me to the Reception to be held on the 29th May. I couldn’t believe it! When I had got over the initial shock, I started to feel really excited, but also incredibly nervous. I started to worry. What would I wear? What was the etiquette on an occasion like this? How do I bow to the Queen? Do I address her as ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Your Majesty?’ I wasn’t exactly used to meeting the Queen, so I really didn’t know how to act.
I was also really worried about my hearing loss and communication problems at such a big occasion. I was concerned that I might not be able to hear people and that I might not be able to hear what the Queen said to me. How would I be able to respond to her if I hadn’t heard her? I really didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I started to become more nervous at the thought of this as the day approached. I also thought that I would become really tired after struggling to lip-read people for a couple of hours.
When the big day arrived, I put on my wedding suit, my newly polished shoes and my brand new shirt and tie, which I’d bought especially for the occasion. I felt really excited, but nervous. As I sat on the tube into Central London, I felt around for my hearing aid batteries and I realised I couldn’t find the spare ones. Oh no. What would happen if my hearing aid battery went flat and then I wouldn’t be able to hear the Queen at all? I started to panic at the thought of that. Thankfully, I rummaged around and found them to my great relief.
When I arrived, I met Peter from Action on Hearing Loss beforehand, and he completely put me at my ease. As we strolled up the Mall, I saw some crowds of tourists watching the Changing of the Guards, and I thought to myself ‘Oh my goodness, I will actually be meeting the Queen in person in about five minutes time at St James’s Palace’. I had to pinch myself to remind me that it was really happening.
When we arrived at St James’s Palace, we were ushered into the reception room, where we were handed a glass of champagne. The reception itself was to be held in the Throne Room. There was a long queue of people waiting to go into the Throne Room to shake hands with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who was also present. I glanced around at my surroundings in awe. The reception room was absolutely beautiful and incredibly opulent. The carpet and walls were covered in red and gold and on the walls hung portraits of the Queen’s royal ancestors, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. I felt completely overwhelmed by the grandness and beauty of it. I had never been anywhere like this in my life! St James’s Palace was built by Henry VIII and it is the senior palace of the British monarchy. The Throne Room is still used today for official Royal occasions and it is where the Queen receives visiting Heads of States on State visits. I couldn’t believe I was actually in such an important, historic place.
In the Throne Room, I stood in line and waited for my name to be called out as I was introduced to the Queen. She smiled at me, reached out her hand and greeted me warmly. I shook her hand and bowed to her, relieved that I hadn’t fainted at that moment or had not been able to hear her. I smiled back and acknowledged her kind greeting. Then I met the Duke of Edinburgh and I shook his hand too. I was so incredibly happy and proud to represent the volunteers of Action on Hearing Loss at that moment.
After this, I chatted over a glass of champagne and canapés to some of the other volunteers from across the UK who were also there to celebrate receiving their Awards. I was amazed that there were so many volunteers present, representing a wide diversity of voluntary organisations, from the large national charities and the Olympics-related groups to much smaller voluntary organisations. I spoke to some volunteers from Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Sea Cadets. I also spoke to a man who told me he had volunteered for forty years for the British Red Cross, which I found really inspiring. He told me that they do a lot of voluntary work in the UK helping vulnerable, elderly people, which I had no idea about before.
I thought it was incredible that so many thousands of people around the UK give up so much of their time and are so passionately committed to helping others in their local communities. I felt immensely proud to be part of that. It was tiring trying to lip-read people and communicate in a noisy environment, but it felt very rewarding to be there amongst these dedicated and compassionate people that day.
On a personal level, I feel that the voluntary work that I have been doing over the last few years on the ‘Hear to Help’ programme run by Action on Hearing Loss has given me back my self-confidence and a great sense of purpose and desire to help other people in my local community with hearing loss, who may be experiencing similar hearing and communication problems as myself. I also really enjoy the social aspect of being with my fellow volunteers. To me, this is worth far more than money. It has helped me rebuild my life after being deeply affected by my hearing loss.
I was so proud and humbled to meet the Queen and the other volunteers at St James’s Palace that day. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me – one that I will never forget!