It’s just impossible to keep up with blog posts, twitter, facebook and all other communication through the transition from build-up to show time. We finished the exhibit by early afternoon on Sunday, said our farewells to the build up team and then headed back to the apartments in reasonable time for showers, early evening drinks and an early dinner at Benitos. Sunday night is always a mix of exhaustion, relief, deflation, satisfaction and the realisation that this is only the beginning. Monday is press day, Royal visit, Gala night, celebration dinner followed by an early start on Tuesday when the show visitors arrive.
Sunday evening took a dangerous turn when we settled down in the back room at the restaurant, a quiet group of ten tired Hillier people. Just as we had ordered the doors burst open and ten large, merry and loud Irish folk arrived having missed their flight home after rugby at Twickenham. Determined to have a good time the singing commenced. Two choices: have a disturbed evening or join in – what would you have done? I think I’ve performed Sweet Caroline better, but I did manage to keep my shirt on. This was no mean achievement as the Irish boys seemed to have acquired a taste for Desigual!
Monday – Press Day. Better weather but cool and breezy. The exhibit looked great and a small hitch with the electrics had been resolved – thanks Paul. Our two fab fencers arrived: Alex and James. They would be with us right through the royal visit. We had an amazing press call and I must say the whole thing looked dazzlingly photogenic. The lads are tall, slim and elegant, and struck an arresting pose amidst the flowers and foliage. There were certainly plenty of cameras around – no BBC main coverage but Hillier are accustomed to that. Perhaps corgis made from chrysanthemum heads are more appealing to the population than 3500 trees, shrubs and perennials in peak condition and live dynamic fencers that will probably be part of Team GB London 2012?
Great Press Launch – lots of people – sparkling Rose soon disappears; both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Somewhere along the line we have been judged; fingers crossed for the result. 3.30 comes around very quickly and it’s time to turn attention the Royal visit. We know that Her Majesty will be visiting Hillier and that she will meet the Fencers. I brief them on what I think will be the course of events but we all know that things can change very rapidly at the last moment. The red carpet is rolled out and everyone takes their places. We seem to stand for ages; the temperature has risen and it looks like a nice evening is on its way. Eventually The Duke of Edinburgh arrives with entourage; there is lots of hand shaking, and the fencers have been asked to fence during his arrival. It takes several minutes to get to Hillier, and then the Duke watches and chats. I do feel for the lads; they will certainly be pretty warm and exhausted by the time Her Majesty arrives.
We wait again and there are several false starts. Eventually the moment comes, fencing commences and Her Majesty comes around the corner. John and I greet her and I explain the exhibit and tell her about James and Alex and invite her to meet them. I call an end to the fencing, they raise their masks and Her Majesty approaches, a fantastic moment. They are clearly awestruck, as everyone is. Her Majesty is charming, chatty, interested; she asks them where they train, when Olympic team selection happens and although its only minutes it seems as if she has been with us for a long time. This was a fantastic moment for all of us and I think one we will all remember always. Meeting Her Majesty in her Diamond Jubilee Year, and talking about what we do and what we are passionate about, whether its sport or gardening.
Other Royal parties follow: Prince Michael of Kent chats to the fencers, also Princess Michael.
After the visit there is a short hiatus before Gala Night. Our two fencers for the evening arrive: Anthony and Alex, and James and Alex stay on. They get stuck into the canapés, and the two retiring fencers down a well-deserved glass of champagne before the Beazley Guests arrive. Soon afterwards the Beazley party assemble. For many of them it’s their first visit to Chelsea. We are treated to a fencing demonstration and I have the pleasure of showing our guests around the exhibit. Monday was a really pleasant evening: appreciative, interested charming guests, many of whom stayed with us for most of the evening. Our fencing lads had a good time and I have to say it was such a pleasure having them along. Every Chelsea brings a new experience; the opportunity to see a little of someone else’s world: Chelsea 2012 has been one of the best!