They’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace . . .

A letter in the mail – The Queen’s New Year’s Honours
On a bright, sunny day last November (my birthday, actually) I was outside cleaning the car, when the postman passed by. He handed me several envelopes and my immediate reaction was that this was another load of the usual junk mail. So you can imagine my surprise when I came across one that seemed rather official looking. And I was even more surprised when I read what it had to say – that I had been nominated to become an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or OBE, for services to international food science. Well, I was gob-smacked, quite emotional really. I rushed inside to tell Steph – who was equally stunned, and we set to ponder how on earth this had come about. I did some Google detective work, and was able to find out a little more about the nomination process, and how successful nominees are chosen. But beyond that, I had no idea. Subsequently (in early January 2012), there was a press release from the British Embassy in the Philippines. There is some more information about the British honours system on the BBC website.

And then began six weeks of purgatory – nominees are sworn to secrecy until the honours list is published officially in The London Gazette, scheduled for 31 December! Anyway, on the 31st I came down for breakfast, and went to the website to see my name in print. And I couldn’t find it! I began to wonder if I had ticked the right box when I sent the form back. But then I found it (page N24) – under the Diplomatic Service and Overseas list. And looking down the list, it was then that I discovered that my good friend and former colleague at IRRI, John Sheehy, had also been made an OBE. A great day for IRRI!

Going to the Palace – next steps
Not long after the New Year, I received a package of information from the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, with the date of the investiture: 29 February. I applied for tickets – for Steph, daughter Philippa, and my closest colleague in the DPPC at IRRI, Corinta Guerta.

Not long afterwards, the tickets arrived in the mail.

Corinta arrived to the UK on 26 February, and after her meeting at DfID in London on the Monday morning, came up to Bromsgrove to spend a couple of nights with us, and to join us for the investiture. We agreed to meet Philippa in London.

One other issue for me was what to wear: morning dress (top hat and tails) or lounge suit (and even which tie to choose).* I finally settled on my lounge suit and pink tie.

Investiture day
It was an early start on the 29th: up at 5 am, and off to Solihull to catch the 7:41 am Chiltern Railways service from Solihull (about 25 minutes from Bromsgrove by car) to London Marylebone. The train eventually was very crowded, with some passengers standing all the way from Banbury to London; but we had good seats. We met up with Philippa at Marylebone, had a quick cup of coffee, and then took a taxi to the Palace.

Security was extremely tight, and we had to show photo IDs and our tickets for access. It’s quite some feeling walking through the gates of the Palace (made in Bromsgrove), past the guards, and through into the inner quadrangle. At the main entrance, under a glass canopy, our tickets were again checked, and we headed inside. What a spectacle: guardsmen in their metal breastplates and equerries in morning suits; everyone was very polite and friendly. After a quick comfort stop, Steph, Philippa, and Corinta headed for the Ballroom, and I headed off in another direction to meet the other honours recipients. The recipients of knighthoods and CBEs were together in one room, the OBEs and MBEs in another. Mineral water and juices were provided – in bottles with The Queen’s crest, and little goblets with EIIR engraved (not to be left on a mantelpiece next to a priceless ceramic vase). We waited in a long gallery full of the most incredible pieces of art – goodness knows what their value was.

One of the Officers on Duty gave a briefing about the ceremony, that it would be held by HRH The Prince of Wales (not HM The Queen, much to my initial disappointment). It began precisely at 11 am, and the first batch of recipients was called away. I was in the second batch. Click on the image below to read the investiture program.

I guess I must have been called to receive my OBE at around 11:15; and afterwards the recipients returned to the back of the ballroom and took their seats to watch the rest of the proceedings. Immediately after the presentation, the insignia was removed and placed in a special case.

I was intrigued to see that the insignia was made by a company based in Bromsgrove, the Worcestershire Medal Service Ltd.

The medals are actually manufactured at a site in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, but the head office is a small shop on one of my daily walk routes!

Anyway, to get back to the ceremony. Each batch of recipients crossed the ballroom at the rear, to enter a corridor on the other side. And it was from there that each recipient was called forward, to wait beside one of the Officers on Duty, and then move forward again as the surname was announced (and the reason for the honour). Turning towards HRH, men gave a small bow from the neck and women a curtsy. The insignia was pinned on, and a few words exchanged.

Receiving my medal from HRH The Prince of Wales (screenshot from The British Monarch website)

HRH asked if I was still working in the Philippines – he had been well briefed, and then we spoke briefly about different varieties of rice. Then, after some words of thanks from HRH and a warm handshake that was it – my moment of glory all over, and I exited through a door on the opposite side from where I had entered. The ballroom itself was quite dimly lit, from several huge chandeliers. On the video footage I have seen, and on the close circuit TV that was broadcast to waiting recipients, the ballroom look very bright indeed.

Considering the number of honours recipients and that HRH spoke to each person individually, the investiture was over just after 12 noon. Then we were able to meet up with our guests. Steph, Philippa, and Corinta had found seats at the back of the ballroom. We then made our way outside for picture taking.

Here are just a few, but click on the image immediately below and a web album of the best photographs will open.

Unfortunately we were not able to stay long in London, since Corinta was due to fly back to the Philippines from Birmingham Airport (BHX) at 8:30 pm. So, once we had taken all the photographs we wanted, I hailed a taxi (much easier outside the Palace than I had envisaged) and we set off for Marylebone and the train. We had a quick bite to eat at the station, and our train to Solihull departed at 2:37 pm, arriving in Solihull on time just after 4 pm. Corinta had plenty of time to get changed, complete some last minute packing, and even enjoy a cup of tea and some home-made Victoria sponge before heading off to BHX in an Emirates Airlines limo.

Originally we thought about driving to London for the investiture. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I would have been stupid to have attempted this trip by car, even though we could have parked right inside Buckingham Palace. On the afternoon of 29 February there were serious traffic incidents on one of the main motorways (M40) into London that we would have used, and there were holdups for several hours. So instead of an anticipated stressed journey by car, we let the train take the strain.

As Steph and I reflected on the day over dinner and a cup of tea that same evening, it was quite surreal to think we had been inside Buckingham Palace just a few hours before. But what a privilege it was, and what a fantastic honour to have received in recognition of the work I did in agricultural research, especially the conservation and use of crop genetic resources.

My former staff in the International Rice Genebank at IRRI sent me this photo – a very thoughtful touch.

Warrant of Appointment
On 22 May I received my Warrant of Appointment as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. This is printed on parchment, has an embossed Seal of the Order in the top left corner, and measures 11.5 x 16.5 inches approx.

* Over the past year since I first posted this story, lots of other recipients of awards have also worried about what to wear to an investiture, and their web searches have often led to my blog. I hope my advice has been useful. I know in at least one case that it has been, since there are a couple of comments to that effect.

13 thoughts on “They’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace . . .

  1. patsyj3621 says:

    I can’t imagine how it would feel to be the recipient of such an honour. It will certainly be a day that you will never forget.

    Once again Mike, congratulations! Your Mum and Dad would have be so very proud of you.


  2. Sol says:

    cool cool cool!!!!


  3. John Tribble says:

    What a wonderful day it must have been. Very interesting to read how the investiture is performed. Thank goodness you decided not to travel by car, not the sort of event you want to be late for.



  4. aileen says:

    congratulations from Rice Today! 🙂


  5. Andy says:

    2 weeks and counting… thought I was going to be all “Mr. Cool” about it but as the day itself draws near I find myself getting strangely nervous. I was thinking of going with a morning suit just to dress up for the occasion but after reading your piece I think a smart suit might be more appropriate.

    Enjoyed reading. Thank you.


    • Mike Jackson says:

      Hi Andy – I know you are going to enjoy the day. Wonderful occasion. And the important thing is to feel comfortable. Instincts are a useful thing . . .


  6. Phil says:

    Its nice to see someone local to us receive one of our pieces of insignia, a bit late to say so but congratulations, have only just found this article.
    Phil – MD Worcestershire Medal Service Ltd


    • Mike Jackson says:

      Thanks for your good wishes Phil.
      It was a great surprise – and a delight – to open the medal case after I’d returned to my seat at the investiture and see the name of WMS Ltd on the inside cover. I retired in 2010 and returned to the UK, and for my exercise step out all around Bromsgrove. Your Broad Street premises is often on my itinerary.


  7. I am very grateful to you for explaining the whole procedure and this helps me greatly in looking forward to my own investiture of MBE on the 23rd October 2013. Through your information, I have been able to explain everything to my wife, daughter and son-in-law who will all be my guests at Buckingham Palace.
    I am driving down to London (from my home in Coventry) the day before the investiture and we are all stopping at a London Hotel for 4 days. So I should be punctual and able to park in the inner quadrangle at the Palace. Driving through the gates should be a great feeling!
    I have hired a top hat and tails for the event.
    I am very proud and totally thrilled by my honour as I am the first (and only) person, specifically from the kart-racing sector of motorsport, to be honoured by Her Majesty – in the 55 year history of kart racing!
    Why am I to receive this Honour? Because, in April 1996, I founded and have since sustained, the only not-for-profit motorsport organization that enables those, who do not have the luxury of very much disposable income, to take part in a superb multi-circuit championship at less than the cost of a ticket to a Premier League football match.
    Thank-you, again, for your most detailed and helpful explanation of the event.
    With kind regards,
    N. Staveley Stanley MBE (For Services to Motorsport).
    2013 Birthday Honours List.


    • Mike Jackson says:

      Dear Nick,
      Congratulations on your MBE! I’m glad you found my piece about the investiture helpful. It certainly has a lot of hits, as it seems many honorees go through the same ‘soul searching’ as I did. I’m sure you and your family will have a great experience at the investiture. Did you order a personalized copy of the video? I did. I wasn’t too sure to begin with, but I am delighted with the result. Obviously there’s a lot a ‘standard’ footage, but there is enough footage of the honoree and family to make it a real memento. Enjoy your day at the Palace!


      • Hello Mike,
        That is very kind of you to reply – and I forgot to wish you a belated congratulations upon your great achievement!
        Being honoured by the Queen is such an extraordinary thing to happen. When it came through the post, I just thought “Great, that’s nice”. Then the BBC came calling and lots of motorsport magazines telephoned me as well as loads of congratulatory cards and emails – and after all the initial publicity died down, I just thought; “Wow! This really is a much bigger deal than I thought.” Then the gravitas of the situation finally penetrated my brain.
        People are still congratulating me now and I feel very humbled that anyone would wish to nominate me in the first place. I still have to check that I am not day-dreaming and it is all just a fantasy!
        You are spot-on with the word “Surreal” – and I haven’t even been to my investiture yet!
        I treat this Honour seriously and I intend to do all that I can to be a credit to the Order of the British Empire.
        Thank-you for your kindness and generous wishes.
        With very best regards,


  8. Andy Harrison says:

    Thanks for you blog Mike. I read this blog the day after my award was announced and I’ve been meaning to follow your footsteps and write about my own story.
    My investiture is now a single digit days away and I really should get my backside in gear!

    Luckily no clothing dilemma for me as I’ve been appointed to the military division so uniform is the order of the day.

    Thank you for writing your blog – I got some invaluable information from it and thank you for the inspiration to write my own story!


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