When You’re Invited to the Palace, Don’t Turn Down the Offer
It was one of those memorable days. My wife and I alighted from the train at London-Paddington station and climbed into a taxi, where Merryn told the driver an address she might never ask for again: “Buckingham Palace, please.” A few days earlier she’d received a gilt-edged card with royal crest in the mail—an invitation to join The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall for a reception at the palace to celebrate the Commonwealth Diaspora of the United Kingdom.
While the invitation never said why Merryn had been invited, it was no doubt due to her role as Lead Statistician on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has prevented an estimated 50 million Covid-19 hospitalisations and saved 6.3 million lives in its first year alone. Just a few weeks ago that effort earned her the honour of being named Australian of the Year in the UK 2022, with a standing ovation and her name engraved alongside Kylie Minogue, Clive James, Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries and others on the official Wedgewood urn. You can see her acceptance speech below, filmed at Australia House in London.
No Entry Without Invitation
We arrived at Buckingham Palace’s north gate where Merryn showed her invitation and proceeded with other guests into the Grand Ball Room—a wonderous hall with crystal chandeliers and two gold thrones under a gold embroidered red velvet canopy, where important people with OBE’s and MBE’s took sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres from friendly Palace staff. Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla soon greeted their guests. It was a special afternoon.
There was just one problem—I wasn’t allowed in. This royal invitation came with no plus-one, so while Merryn dined with the prince in the palace, I sat in the park with the pigeons, holding an over-priced coffee and stale muffin from the kiosk!
Gates Close at 3.30pm
Jesus once told a story about a member of royalty who throws a banquet. Gilt-edged invitations are sent to important people, but in this case some decline. One is busy with his property portfolio, another is busy with work, while a third has booked his honeymoon on the same date. This isn’t the kind of response fitting for a royal invitation. The man gathers his staff and says, “Print more invitations and give them to the poor!” The staff return, saying there’s still room. “Print even more invites,” he says. “Take them to the streets and those watching pigeons in parks!” It’s a story about the love of God, who wants His banquet full, with every kind of person. And it’s a story with a sting in its tail, for the gates will soon close and only those accepting the invitation will get in.
Stale muffin aside, I enjoyed my time in the park—taking photos of the pigeons and a cheeky squirrel that tried to steal my coffee cup. If Palace staff had approached me with an invitation I wonder if I’d have taken it. I might’ve felt out of place, dressed in my T-shirt and jeans instead of a suit. Perhaps I’d have deliberated too long, the gates closing, missing my opportunity.
Or maybe I’d have walked in, just as I am, dusty trainers and all.
Note to self: when the invitation comes to enter palaces earthly and divine, don’t turn down the offer.