Accident of birth

Friday 22nd April 2011

GOOD Friday? Something of a curate’s egg, mine. Taken about an hour to find the cheapest travel options for my niece’s wedding: at a fabulous venue, up in North Yorkshire. Imagine getting married in, say, London, a week from now, where the unhappy couple will be facing both a ‘smog alert’, due to the high level of car exhaust particulates, and a snog alert, due to the low level of regard of exhausting paparazzi. Who’d be a royal, eh?

My first live gig, six decades ago, was a scream. I arrived within an hour of the birth of Princess Anne. Mum told me, later, that there was a substantial prize – pram, cot, year’s supply of nappies – for the mother whose delivery time was closest to Queen Elizabeth’s.

There was, however, a rider: the baby had to be of the same sex as the royal infant. Mum pushed hard, crossed the line first… and was disqualified.

I met the Princess Royal when we were both approaching fifty. She came to a festival event and did the staff line-up handshaking bit. An equerry gave us an etiquette briefing beforehand:

“Address her royal highness as ‘Ma’am’. She will take the lead. Do not ask questions or initiate conversational topics.”

She arrived at the Town Hall later than expected. I couldn’t hang around, as I had a gig to host at another venue. She was shorter than I’d imagined. Heading the queue were various dignitaries, committee members, men in suits. I pushed in. She wore gloves.

“Oh… er… and this is the festival production manager.”

“Sorry, Jeremy, but I’ve got to go and I’ve waited nearly fifty years for this moment. You and I were born within an hour of each other, Ma’am.”

“Where was that?”

“Well, in my case, in Batley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire.”

“Do you still live there?”

“No, Ma’am. Like you, I now live here in the Cotswolds.”

“It is a beautiful part of the country. Well, enjoy the rest of the festival. And well done.”

She moved on. History unmade. And bang went my fantasy of suggesting a joint fiftieth birthday party, at her place.

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