Equally thrilling as being asked to work on Westminster Abbey was the envelope flopping through the letterbox ten years later, in 2003, asking me if I would accept an MBE, to be announced in the next New Year’s Honours List. The citation was for Garden Design and Services to Horticulture. And of course I accepted, on the understanding that I said nothing about it except to my guests until the day it was announced.
The day of the ceremony – in the New Year of 2004 – duly arrived. One is allowed to take three people to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, so I drove up to London with my dear, now deceased friend Angela Boschi, in a hire car. I was wearing a morning suit for the occasion, and met my brother and his wife at a hotel in Park Lane for coffee before proceeding. We all got into a cab, and I was able to say to the driver, ‘Take us to the Palace, please.’ Up the Mall we went, showing my letter at the front gates, then under one of those arches; we were stopped and the car was searched, in the cab and under it, all over in fact – I suppose for explosives; and then on into the central courtyard, whence we walked up the main red-carpeted staircase to the first floor, guests to the left and me to the right.
I had done the staircase walk before, when I used to belong to the Architecture Club and we had an evening visit to look at the pictures in the Palace. I remember clearly the paintings, the gilding everywhere, and silken banquettes on which to sit. The paintings by Winterhalter are what really got me. They are so beautiful – of sparkling-eyed Victorian
274 A Landscape Legacy