As Emma stepped out on to Smith Square, a chauffeur opened the back door of a black limousine. She ushered her flock inside before joining Harry and Jessica on the back seat. Samantha and Seb sat on the two tip-up seats facing them.
“Are you nervous, Grandpops?” asked Jessica, as the car moved off and joined the morning traffic.
“No,” said Harry. “Unless you’re planning to overthrow the state.”
“Don’t put ideas into her head,” said Sebastian as they drove past the House of Commons and into Parliament Square.
Even Jessica fell silent when the car drove through Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace came into sight. The chauffeur proceeded slowly up the Mall, driving around the statue of Queen Victoria before stopping outside the palace gates. He wound down his window and said to the young Guards officer, “Mr Harry Clifton and family.”
The lieutenant smiled and ticked off a name on his clipboard. “Drive through the archway to your left and one of my colleagues will show you where to park.”
The driver followed his instructions and entered a large courtyard, where row upon row of cars were already parked. “Please park next to the blue Ford on the far side,” said another officer, pointing across the yard, “then your party can make their way into the palace.”
When Harry stepped out of the car, Emma gave him one final check.
“I know you’re not going to believe this,” she whispered, “but your flies are undone.”
Harry turned bright red as he zipped himself up before they made their way up the steps and into the palace. Two liveried footmen in the gold and red uniform of the royal household stood rigidly to attention at the bottom of a wide, red-carpeted staircase. Harry and Emma slowly climbed the steps, trying to take everything in. When they reached the top, they were greeted by two more gentlemen of the royal household. Harry noticed that the rank rose every time they were stopped.
“Harry Clifton,” he said before he was asked.
“Good morning, Mr Clifton,” said the senior of the two officers. “Would you be kind enough to accompany me? My colleague will conduct your family to the Throne Room.”
“Good luck,” whispered Emma, as Harry was led away.
The family climbed another staircase, not quite as wide, which led into a long gallery. Emma paused as she entered the high-ceilinged room and stared at the rows of closely hung paintings that she’d only seen before in art books. She turned to Samantha. “As we’re unlikely to be invited a second time, I suspect Jessica would like to learn more about the Royal Collection.”
“Me too,” said Sebastian.
“Many of the kings and queens of England,” began Samantha, “were art connoisseurs and collectors, so this is only a tiny selection from the Royal Collection, which is not actually owned by the monarch, but by the nation. You will notice that the focus of the picture gallery is on British artists from the early nineteenth century. A remarkable Turner of Venice hangs opposite an exquisite painting of Lincoln Cathedral by his old rival, Constable. But the gallery, as you can see, is dominated by a vast portrait of Charles II on horseback, painted by Van Dyck, who at the time was the court artist in residence.”
Jessica became so entranced she almost forgot why they were there.
When they finally reached the Throne Room, Emma regretted not having set out earlier, as the first ten rows of chairs were already occupied. She walked quickly down the centre aisle, grabbed a place on the end of the first available row and waited for the family to join her. Once they were seated, Jessica began to study the room carefully.
Just over three hundred neat gold chairs were laid out in rows of sixteen, with a wide aisle separating them down the centre. At the front of the room was a red-carpeted step that swept up to a large empty throne that awaited its rightful occupant. The buzz of nervous chatter ceased at six minutes to eleven when a tall, elegant man in morning dress entered the room, came to a halt at the foot of the step and turned to face the assembled gathering.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “and welcome to Buckingham Palace. Today’s investiture will begin in a few minutes’ time. Can I remind you not to take photographs, and please do not leave before the ceremony is over.” Without another word, he departed as discreetly as he had entered. Jessica opened her bag and took out a small pad and a pencil. “He didn’t say anything about drawing, Grandma,” she whispered.
As eleven o’clock struck, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II entered the throne room, and all the guests rose. She took her place on the step in front of the throne but did not speak. A nod from a gentleman usher, and the first recipient of an honour entered from the other side of the room. For the next hour, men and women from around the United Kingdom and Commonwealth received honours from their monarch, who held a short conversation with every one of them before the usher nodded once again and the next recipient took their place.
Jessica’s pencil was poised and ready when Grandpops entered the room. As he walked towards the Queen, the gentleman usher placed a small stool in front of Her Majesty and then handed her a sword. Jessica’s pencil didn’t rest for even a moment, capturing the scene as Harry knelt down on one knee and bowed his head. The Queen touched the tip of the sword gently on his right shoulder, lifted it, then placed it on his left shoulder, before saying, “Arise, Sir Harry.”
“So what happened after you were marched off to the Tower?” demanded Jessica as they drove out of the palace and back down the Mall, to take Harry to his favourite restaurant a few hundred yards away for a celebration lunch.
“To begin with, we were all taken into an anteroom where a gentleman usher guided us through the ceremony. He was very polite, and suggested that when we met the Queen we should bow from the neck,” said Harry, giving a demonstration, “and not from the waist like a page boy. He told us we shouldn’t shake hands with her, should address her as Your Majesty, and should wait for her to begin the conversation. Under no circumstances were we to ask her any questions.”
“How boring,” said Jessica, “because there are lots of questions I’d like to ask her.”
“And when replying to any question she might ask,” said Harry, ignoring his granddaughter, “we should address her as ma’am, which rhymes with jam. Then once the audience is over, we should bow again.”
“From the neck,” said Jessica.
“And then take our leave.”
“But what would happen if you didn’t leave,” asked Jessica, “and began to ask her questions?”
“The gentleman usher assured us very politely that should
we outstay our welcome, he had instructions to chop off our heads.” Everyone laughed except Jessica.
“I would refuse to bow or call her Your Majesty,” said Jessica firmly.
“Her Majesty is very tolerant of rebels,” said Sebastian, trying to guide the conversation back on to safer ground, “and accepts that the Americans have been out of control since 1776.”
“So what did she talk about?” asked Emma.
“She told me how much she enjoyed my novels, and asked if there would be another William Warwick this Christmas. Yes, ma’am, I replied, but you might not enjoy my next book, as I’m thinking of killing William off.”
“What did she think of that idea?” asked Sebastian.
“She reminded me what her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria had said to Lewis Carroll after she’d read Alice in Wonderland. However, I assured her that my next book will not be a mathematical thesis on Euclid.”
“How did she respond?” asked Samantha.
“She smiled, to show the conversation had come to an end.” “So if you’re going to kill off William Warwick, what will be the theme of your next book?” asked Sebastian, as the car pulled up outside the restaurant.
“I once promised your grandmother, Seb,” replied Harry, as he stepped out of the car, “that I would try to write a more sub- stantial work that would, in her words, outlast any bestseller list and stand the test of time. I’m not getting any younger, so once I’ve completed my present contract, I intend to try and find out if I’m capable of living up to her expectations.”
“Do you have an idea, a subject or even a title?” pressed Seb as they entered Le Caprice.
“Yes, yes, and yes,” said Harry, “but that’s all I’m willing to tell you at the moment.”
“But you’ll tell me, won’t you, Grandpops?” said Jessica, as she produced a pencil drawing of Harry kneeling before the Queen, a sword touching his right shoulder.
Harry gasped as the rest of the family smiled and applauded. He was about to answer her question, when the maître d’ stepped forward and rescued him.
“Your table is ready, Sir Harry.”
Excerpted with permission from This Was A Man, Jeffrey Archer, Published by Pan Macmillan.