by KATIE GREENWOOD
I was never meant to meet the Duchess. When the email came asking me to nominate a representative for morning tea with Princess Kate, I entertained the idea of going myself for about as long as it took me to update my facebook status with the ethical conundrum of how to choose someone in my stead before I went and spoke to one of our longest serving staff.
Life here in the Solomon Islands can be tough and joy is amplified. I wanted a National staff member to have this one, great opportunity. That was the idea anyway.
As often happens here, things didn’t quite go according to plan and on the morning of the event I got a message that our representative was unavoidably detained and she couldn’t attend the planned gathering. Oh. My. God – save-the-Queen!
Long story short, after several phone calls, it turned out the most appropriate person to attend with this much notice was me. Me, who had NOTHING TO WEAR!
As someone who has worked in Disaster Management for many years, I’d like to say what happened next was all done smoothly, with detached logic and precision. In reality, it resembled a full blown meltdown. Yes it’s awesome to get to meet the Duchess of Cambridge, but of course *I *get to do it with ONE HOUR’s NOTICE!! Turns out I was the princess that morning!
Meltdown aside, there I was an hour later, hair and makeup pulled together by my calming sister, outfit chosen by my patient partner, sitting in a leaf hut with 50 other women mentally slapping myself stupid about the fact I’ve lived here for 4 years and have not yet had a traditional “Pacific Formal” outfit made.
I think it was possibly the most relaxed entry into a Royal event ever. Even the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Women was bustling about changing her shoes from one pair to another and making jokes about tripping over the woven mats laid out across the floor. We were hushed and given a briefing about Royal protocol by an expatriot who has lived here for over 40 years, has met QEII twice and who was about to present Kate with a replica of the cake she had made for the Queen in 1982.
She helpfully told us we must curtsy when we shake hands with the Duchess; must call her Your Highness the first time we address her and Ma’am thereafter; that it’s a big no- no to touch a Royal (a la Paul Keating) other than when shaking their hand and that Kate might take a drink with us, but that she won’t eat in public. I’m not sure anyone really listened to much of what was being said, but they took some of it on board because hilarity ensued when 50 women started all talking at once and bobbing up and down, practicing their curtsy.
When the moment finally came and Kate came walking to the hut flanked by an honor guard of young Solomon girls dressed in traditional Provincial costume, the atmosphere was electric. All the women went crazy with their phones and cameras and I can imagine in other, more polished circles Kate isn’t used to being papped by the very group of women she is there to meet! I made a deliberate decision not to take photos of her. I just wanted my memory to do the job and to soak in the atmosphere of the occasion.
As she went around the circle of women, I watched her shift in her 4 inch heels (kudos in the Sols terrain!) as if they were beginning to kill her and noted that her hair, like every other woman I know, also frizzed in the humidity. It was nice to know she was an ordinary chick! In the end, I spent about 15 seconds with her talking about my organisation and our program working on the elimination of violence against women. Before she moved on she congratulated me on our work and I wished her a great stay. She said she was enjoying it immensely.
The final act of the occasion was a group photo. All of a sudden, a tentative hand reached through to pat Kate’s shoulder, then another. Someone asked if they could present a flower garland and the Duchess obliged, bowing slightly to have it placed gently on her head. About 4 more women stepped forward quickly and pulled the garland down to make sure it was in place and then it seemed a free for all with women breaking ranks to shake her hand again and wish her well. So much for that protocol briefing!
Others would have turned to their security and made the magic signal to be whisked away, but she kept her cool. She seemed very relaxed and down to earth and as if it was the only place in the world she wanted to be. I’m no Monarchist, and I’m pretty sure the whole event didn’t change anyone’s life, but it’s been lovely to see the country set alight with excitement and an outpouring of well wishes, from both sides.
Katie Greenwood is a humanitarian advocate, activist, aid woker and occasional writer. She lives and works in the Pacific with her partner where life rolls from one amazing to challenging and back again. She leads a privileged life and tries not to forget it. You can follow her on twitter here @kazgreenie
Kate Middleton in a peach Jenny Packham dress at a children's hospice.
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