Christine Nuttall and Xavier Ballesteros of Cambridge English Language Assessment were invited to Buckingham Palace, official residence of the Queen, for a reception to honour the recipients of this year's Queen's Awards for Enterprise.
We arrived in London ridiculously early in case something (anything!) prevented us from arriving at Buckingham Palace on time. After killing time in Trafalgar Square, we hailed a cab on the Mall and gave Buckingham Palace as our destination. We had been provided with a card which got our taxi through the security in front of the palace.
We made our way through the tourists to the front gates and from there, across the courtyard, underneath the famous balcony, past the guards and up to the main entrance. This is the place you see in films where the Daimler draws up and the visiting head of state steps out for his or her audience with the queen.
As soon as we entered the palace, we were asked to leave our phones and cameras and then were shown into the throne room. After a few minutes of standing around and chatting with other winners - a company which provides widgets for the oil and gas trade and another which does something innovative with steam - we were expertly and smoothly herded into a line to be presented to the Queen and Prince Philip.
As we approached, we were instructed by a footman that we should address the Queen as Your Majesty and after that as Ma'am (pronounce mam not maaaam). It was up to us whether we bowed, curtsied or just shook hands.
A footman read out our names and our organisation and the Queen shook hands and said well done. Xavier was in front of me and had clearly perfected a very elegant bow. I bowed, curtsied and shook hands just for good measure.
Next came Prince Philip. On hearing Cambridge English Language Assessment he asked "English Language? Are you a teacher?" Not much time to convey exactly what we do but I think I got the message over, and then he was on to the next person.
It took about 20 minutes for all two hundred and fifty guests to be greeted and then the Queen and Prince Philip mingled relatively informally with the winners for about another half an hour. Surprisingly, there were nine members of the Royal family there.
We spent a few minutes chatting with Princess Anne about exam security in the school system in one of the many countries she has visited. She had an interesting tale about biometric fingerprinting which included registering the pulse of the candidate, which seemed extreme to me and I’m not sure I want to speculate on why that would be needed.
The reception rooms were as grand as you might expect and if there was a lull in proceedings you could inspect the van Dycks and Canalettos (two of which pictured top left and right) on the walls. Beautiful.
After a couple of hours, it was all over and by 8.30pm, Xavier and I were eating a sandwich in Kings Cross station waiting for the train to Cambridge. Back to reality...
Director of Marketing and Stakeholder Relations, Cambridge English Language Assessment