Thursday, 7 July 2011

A Birthday Dinner

Sometimes by great good fortune one can find oneself in the right place at the right time. And so it was last week when, as Master, I with the Wardens, was invited to a very special dinner: HRH the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th Birthday Dinner. As was clear from the Charter ceremony last year and as is clear today, for a nonagenarian he is holding up rather well. Since he is an Honorary member of a number of Livery Companies as well as holding Honorary positions at the Bank of England and the Baltic Exchange he asked that instead of being asked to multiple dinner engagements could everyone not combine for a single Birthday dinner. And so it came to pass, with Fishmongers generously offering to organise and host the dinner. And what a dinner. With only ten Livery Companies and four other organisations represented it was a small and intimate affair.

Her Majesty the Queen accompanied the Duke as did the Princess Royal. We were all personally introduced to each royal before the dinner. The Menu was a joy and a wonderful souvenir but the food and drink were sensational. With such small numbers the tables were in a simple horseshoe shape. With these guests of honour the Fishmongers, if you will excuse the pun, pushed the boat out. A glorious meal was followed by two short speeches, one from the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers Company and one in response by the Duke. The Prime Warden paid tribute to Prince Philip's service to our country and to his tireless support to the Queen for decades. He told the dinner that the Queen had given him a special 90th Birthday present. She had conferred on him the Title and Office of Lord High Admiral which means he is now head of the Navy--a position formerly held by the monarch.

Prince Philip paid tribute to Livery but observed that he was scaling back his commitments. He told the BBC '' I reckon I've done my bit. I want to enjoy myself a bit now, with less responsibility, less frantic rushing around, less trying to think of something to say.'' What he said after dinner was similar and received a great applause. On a separate occasion the Prime Minister said he was ''a remarkable man who has given years of his service to our country, someone who has defended his nation in times of war, a man who has stood alongside Her Majesty the Queen for over six decades, a man who has given his time and effort and passion to so many great causes up and down the country, across the Commonwealth and indeed across the world'' These words reflected the mood of that evening. It was a singular privilege to be there and is one of the greatest highlights of my year so far.

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