A Very Special Investiture

      22/8/2022       Next-->

The name Bullivant is extremely well know in Bulawayo.
The late Lindsay Bullivant was an inspiring educator and husband Michael Bullivant was also a dedicated educator, with his career culminating in the position of deputy head of Milton School.

Today Michael is very prominent in the music world.
Principal of the Zimbabwe Academy of Music, founder of the Bulawayo Music Festival, Chairman of Performing Arts Bulawayo, amongst his many talents, and in recognition of his 'Services to Music, Education and UK/Zimbabwe relations' Michael was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II in her 2020 New Year Honours.
The Investiture was held eventually on 27 July 2022 and I managed to coerce Michael, with a great deal of persuasion, to let us have an account of this very special day in the life of a dedicated man.

'More than two-and-a-half years ago I had a phone call that I thought initially was a joke - a voice said that she was the British Ambassador and asked whether I was willing to accept an OBE in the New Year's Honours List. When convinced that I really was talking to Melanie Robinson, the Ambassador, I said 'Of course' or words to that effect, was sworn to secrecy until the list was published some weeks later - and went to sit down and recover and reflect. Not least on the fact that OBE is often taken to mean 'Other Buggers' Efforts', by now means untrue in my case as my wife and a good many others had played a large part in what musical successes might have led to the award.

Plans to go to receive the award were scarcely finalised when all was thrown into disarray by Covid and it was only two years after the originally proposed date that I was able to go to England to receive it - and arrived at the beginning of a heat wave that culminated in the highest temperature ever recorded in Britain, higher, indeed, than has ever been recorded in Bulawayo!

Before the day dawned, which, although the record-breaking heat was still to come, was overcast, humid and hot, there was the need to check on the various instructions issued to make sure we got things right. Post-Covid it seemed that things were somewhat scaled down and only one guest instead of three was allowed whilst it was made clear that there would be no refreshments on offer. There was advice on dress - uniform, a morning coat or dark suit for men, so no problem there. Parking arrangements were meticulously laid out for those arriving by car and a special pass issued to facilitate entrance bearing the large letters 'WC'..

The ceremony itself was to take place at Windsor Castle, not Buckingham Palace as the latter is undergoing a very substantial renovation at the moment - it's apparently expected to cost some $500 million and take several years to complete, probably not until 2027. I was delighted to discover that the bearer of the good news would be at the same ceremony as Melanie Robinson had been awarded a CMG in the 2022 Honours List, so we had a very agreeable hour together before making our way, as instructed, to the Henry VIII Gate where we paused for photographs, all featuring a Union Flag thoughtfully provided by the Ambassador.

Once inside the gate, there were, it seemed, officials every few yards, many of them in splendid military uniforms, to guide you to your destination. It was quite a long walk past St. George's Chapel to the splendid state rooms which seemed to lead endlessly one into another - one dominated by a huge bust of Lord Nelson, three or four times life-size. We were separated into groups according to the award received - first knighthoods and other top honours (including the Ambassador with her CMG and, among her companions, the face of Covid in Britain, Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, who was to receive a knighthood), then the OBEs in alphabetical order and ladies first so just behind me came diver Tom Daley (no knitting to hand but more inclined to advertise some of his merchandise than adhere to the dress instructions), then the MBEs and others. Each group was shown to a separate room, all vast and full of splendid portraits and paintings - and suffocatingly hot: the 'no refreshments' rubric had to be somewhat modified and water provided.

Another military official, wearing, as you do, spurs, talked and walked us through the next steps, deploying fellow members of the castle team to demonstrate, but for something so intimidatingly formal, there was a disarming note of playfulness that put everyone at ease. We were told that Prince Charles would be officiating and that we'd each get around a minute with him, were allowed to ask questions and that we'd know when the conversation was over. Detailed instructions were given on just how to behave - including two steps back after the presentation and a bow (from the head, not the waist!) or a curtsey: the very engaging official demonstrated both and made a very neat curtsey, but I opted for the bow. Then a special, apparently non-fabric-ruining clip was affixed so that the medal could easily be hooked over it rather than clumsily pinned on.

And then at last, over an hour after arrival, the actual ceremony. Another vast room dominated by a superb tapestry with Prince Charles in admiral's uniform (he must have been boiling) standing on a low dais, various sumptuously dressed officials, the occasional beefeater - and a small string orchestra. And a surprise: I had assumed that the ceremony would be rather like a school prize-giving with all the recipients seated and called up in order, but not so. Everyone lined up in the corridor (adorned with familiar portraits of former monarchs from Charles I through to William IV) leading to the room, and each was called in one by one with the reason for the honour announced.

And so, almost before you know it, your guest is led into the room to a suitable vantage point while you are guided in front of Prince Charles, who had clearly done his homework on each guest and asked thoughtful questions. His first to me was 'And how is poor Zimbabwe ' I answered as honestly and briefly as I could, mentioning in passing that he had, of course, officiated at the independence celebrations over forty years ago. His response was to 'wonder whether I'll ever be allowed to go back'. What could I say but that I hoped so and that we would have the pleasure of welcoming him to Bulawayo, as we had the Queen over thirty years ago.

All of this was photographed and then we were led into the magnificent Waterloo Chamber where more photographs were taken, the cross unhooked and attached to a proper pin before being returned in a handsome box. And so out and away with officials to guide every step, all smiling, courteous and offering congratulations, until we were back on the street outside the Henry VIII Gate once more. What else to follow but a celebratory lunch with an appropriate bottle - and memories that already began to seem more like a dream..'

Michael Bullivant - 27 July 2022