Wednesday, 07 March 2012 02:29
By Eef Armstrong
Antigua St John's - Once upon a time there lived a handsome prince…..and they lived happily ever after…. The romantic and endearing stories about princes and princesses that we read when we are children look totally different once you step out of fantasyland.
Prince Edward, fourth child of British Queen Elisabeth, might be dancing at a ball from time to time, but representing the Royal family at official functions is a more realistic picture of what his life is like. The Count of Wessex, his official title, is finishing up his Caribbean tour, alongside his wife, with a visit to Antigua and Barbuda.
The trip is part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elisabeth, who ascended the British throne 60 years ago.
On Monday afternoon, the couple flew in by charter and joined the ‘Leander,’ a luxury yacht in English Harbour, where they will stay during their visit.
Things normally might happen on "Antigua time," but not this time around. At 9:45 am sharp, the Guard of Honour paraded onto the grounds in Nelson’s Dockyard accompanied by a marching band.
A big crowd had gathered, some carrying British flags and looking cheerful and excited. It was then that Governor General Dame Louis Lake-Tack and entourage walked by, onto the red carpet towards the Leander to greet the Royal couple. The Royals are staying on the luxury yacht owned by Sir Donald Goslin, who received a surprise award during lunch as an appreciation for accommodating the Royal pair.
Wearing a colorful flower-print dress six-year-old Angelique Gittens, together with Kieron Merdoch, a 4th form student at the Antigua Grammar School, waited patiently for the Count and Countess to disembark so they could present them with white bouquets of flowers.
Looking very relaxed and seemingly enjoying the moment, the Royal couple was introduced to Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, members of Parliament, and the commissioner of police.
Even though Countess Sophie was not wearing an elaborate gown as we read about in fairy tales, her dress was rather exquisite. The black and off-white long sleeved dress that reached just above her knees was complimented with a hint of green and yellow. She was clasping a small white purse and her hair was tied into a rolled bun on the back of her head. To finish it all off, she wore brown sunglasses.
Her husband wore a dark blue suit, a light blue shirt, a yellow tie with print and a blue and yellow and blue lapel.
At 10 o’clock, ten minutes ahead of schedule, the Antiguan anthem was played by the band, followed by the British anthem. The British flag was raised alongside the Antiguan flag, and looking rather serious, Prince Edward inspected the Guard of Honour. Both anthems were played again to finish the inspection.
The Count of Wessex rejoined his wife, and together with government officials they walked the red carpet into the Copper and Lumber Store Hotel to meet about 68 past awardees. Animatedly talking and gesturing with his hands, Prince Edward seemed very much in his element and his interactions seemed effortless and genuine. Both him and his wife kept eye contact with whoever they met and gave them their full attention. It was clear that they enjoyed what they were doing.
Cordel Josiah, MBE, was asked by the Count what he had received his award for. He even got to tell the Prince about his visit to Buckingham Palace in 2010 to accept his award. ”He is very similar to his brother Charles," Josiah said of the Count. Dr Billy Dyer sparkled in a beautiful red dress with golden embroidery. ”The Countess told me she loved my dress," she said, chuckling, “It used to be an old house coat but everyone loves it”. Dr Dyer was awarded as an officer of princely heritage many years ago. "I was asked what I was doing at Buckingham Palace, and I told him I was at his mother’s party," she said.
The crowd was surprised when the royal pair decided to chit chat with them on their way from Copper and Lumber to the Dockyard museum. People were snapping pictures and pushing to the front to get a glimpse of the couple or perhaps even a handshake or a friendly word. By then, Prince Edward had added a straw hat to his ensemble and looked rather dapper.
After a longer than planned visit to the museum, it was time for the planting of the trees. Their Royal Highnesses were to plant one lignum vitae tree each. Cicely Solomon, chief protocol office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained that these trees were chosen deliberately. "The wood of this tree is used to make boats, and given the history of Nelson’s Dockyard it was a perfect choice," she said.
Prince Edward planted one first, but just as it was the Countess’s turn, the rain came pouring down and the mission was aborted. The couple was quickly whisked into a waiting car that took them to the Interpretation Centre.
By then it was midday and time for lunch, which was set in the breathtaking scenery of the Admirals Inn in Nelson Dockyard. A band was playing some lovely background music and tables were set for 44 guests. The Royals were to enjoy artisan rolls, savoury sables, a tapenade selection followed by aubergine vine ripened tomato and mozzarella stacks with basil pesto vinaigrette. The main course was char grilled breast of organic chicken served on Antiguan black pineapple salsa with a medley of salad leaves dressed with vinaigrette. Dessert; a trio of mini tartlets served with fresh strawberries followed by coffee.
Before this scrumptious lunch was to be taken in a young student and an older man played the national anthem on a steel drum followed by the British anthem. A prayer was offered and the prime minister addressed the guests.
Prince Edward started his address with a joke. He was welcoming the guests when he abruptly stopped and said, "You all know who is here. So I can skip that part," which promptly drew laughter from the guests. He expressed his delight with the setting of the lunch venue and talked about when he was here five years ago. The governor general after a short speech and presented a surprise award to Sir Donald Goslin.
After a break in the programme, the day ended with dinner at the Mill Reef Club where five tables holding 10 people each were set. Cocktails were served first and everyone was mingling and chatting.
Countess Sophie wore a peach floor length gown with a single shoulder strap with a black clasp. An off-white purse, diamond earrings and necklace finished off her look.
As to tradition the national anthem was sung and reverend Derek Stapleton offered a prayer and blessing. Dame Louise gave a speech reminiscing on Queen Elisabeth’s reign and highlighting Antigua’s beaches, and sports accomplishments. She then introduced Prince Edward, who passed on his mother’s message for our nation.
“Her Majesty is very sorry she can’t be here but extends her warmest wishes. She has been watching the islands with great interest and is immensely touched by your loyalty," he said. "Her affection for Antigua is a strong and constant as 60 years ago."
The prince went on to say that Antigua is as much part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations as anyone else. He concluded with the remark that he and his wife had visited eight Caribbean territories and “We have saved the best for last." He promised to take a bit of the emotions and atmosphere they experienced here and pass it on to the queen.
And to put a bit of humor an lightheartedness into the speech the Queen’s son joked about the Americans present at the dinner and how they wished their head of state was the British Queen, and how they missed an opportunity many years ago to get their hands on one of these beautiful islands.
During dinner, Annelisa D’ornellas and Leslie Nanton treated the guests to classical singing. Dame Louise had asked the singers to perform, since she is a fan. The night, just like in a royal fairy tale, ended magically with a display of fireworks.
Wednesday will be the second and last day of the Royal visit. While Prince Edward will be visiting the Duke of Edinburgh Award Programme and the Antigua Grammar School, his better half will be visiting the children’s ward at MSJMC, Princess Margaret School and the Adele school for special children. Together they will pay a visit to St John’s Catholic Cathedral and close off their visit with a lunch at Jumby Bay Resort.