Chelsea Pensioners are their own class of royalty in the UK, with their brilliant red coats and black caps and private lodgings in the heart of Chelsea, London. They are stared at wherever they go. It is a foundation established for former members of the British Military, a retirement home with the full services (and much more) of a pension. It is a glorified retirement for any member of the British Military serving over 12 years. But there is a waiting list much too long for people in their ageing years and so that is why the average age of a Chelsea Pensioner is 82 and a half years old.
Every year they celebrate ‘Founder’s Day’, a day full of tradition and pomp and military drills. And this year I got to go. By personal invite of Bill, who I met through P (au-pair family). Bill is a old man, who is ruddy and round and has lived in the UK and Australia. He’s served in the army but also has played the drums in countless military marching bands. He has multiple military medals that I don’t know the meanings of hanging from his breast. He shuffles on his feet like a penguin when he’s standing in the same spot for too long and puts “smashing” and “jolly good” into every sentence for extra good measure.
(Bill: the man with the drum)
And so I was chuffed to be invited to such a day, which was being hosted by one of the royals themselves; Prince Harry! The invite requested the ‘pleasure of the company of Miss A.’ and I was to wear something formal, a hat, and have ‘less sword’ whatever that should mean!
The morning began at 10.30am. I turned up presentable alongside K and P, with a hat to top it off. I sat in stand A, row Z and watched as the black Canadian bear skinned hat band began playing their music while the Chelsea Pensioners took their places on the field. More soldiers tumbled out of windows and played their trumpets from the roof tops as Prince Harry made his entrance. It was endearing to watch the Chelsea Pensioners performing their drills that obviously meant so much to them. They looked proud to be marching before such a crowd and they swelled with pride when Harry walked around, shaking hands and having little heart-to-hearts with a select few. Bill was one of those privileged ones.
Prince Harry then addressed the crowd in a speech that made him look very humble. He said he was nervous and made reference to his own time in the military and the comradeship he feels with his own unit. He finished with a mention that he was astonished that the drill the Chelsea Pensioners had performed was far better than any his brother had ever done! Joker.
Others spoke after him, including the Governor of the Chelsea Pensioners (who I met on another occasion). The skies only opened up once with rain, so I huddled under the edge of the umbrella that a couple were holding next to me.
Afterwards, people with a green ticket were able to go to the Governor’s tent. I was not one of those and so milled around with a smaller crowd waiting for Bill. And who should happen to come out again, Prince Harry, that’s who! He shook hands with some people and was protected by a ring of guards, but still I was three metres from him.
Our party was then treated to a flash lunch at Fortnum and Masons by Bill who insisted we finish the day off with a bang. I ordered fish and chips (so very English of me) and the fish was so big the plate couldn’t contain it. Bill told us stories for whatever topic we were on and continually said what a “smashing” day t’was.