Yesterday was very surreal. Our hot and muggy day in London ended with lashings of Pimms at Buckingham Palace as Dominic and I (Lucy) represented Vegware at the reception for the winners of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. And my purple dress was even on the BBC news at 6, 7, 8 and 9pm!
Vegware has won a lot of awards (11 this year so far I think) and so we are becoming accustomed to donning suits and frocks and meeting other ambitious business people at various receptions. But meeting the Queen as a result of Vegware’s achievements really does stand out. Here is my account of the day…
After a brief government reception hosted by Vince Cable at the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, we sauntered along to Buck House, moving slowly so as to avoid melting on the way. So hot!
Outside the gates to Buckingham Palace, we gathered with the other winners in their finery, as camera-laden tourists mistook us for minor royalty, or possibly a troupe of very well-dressed Royal health visitors.
Guards ushered us in and we crunched along the gravel into the rather impressive inner courtyard. Once we had left our coats, cameras and mobiles at the cloakroom (whose entrance was marked by two colourful Chinese vases as tall as me), we walked up plush carpeted stairs admiring the ornate, well, everything. And trying to act normal. And wishing we had photographic memories to capture all the priceless works of art around us.
Up in the long Picture Gallery, we found our name badges and were offered a drink. I chose Pimms, of course, decorated with mint leaves and small blue flowers. We mingled with other award winners and members of the Royal House. Dominic and I were standing just near a Rembrandt – the Shipbuilder and His Wife – the detail is incredible.
Just when I was wondering why I hadn’t practised curtsying, it was time to meet the Queen. We shook hands with her in turn, as our names were read aloud. It was just a few hours after her day-old great-grandson (now called George, evidently inspired by Hugh Laurie’s portrayal) had been shown to the world for the first time. I did a little bob curtsey and said, “Congratulations” to which she looked a little surprised and said, “Well, thank YOU”.
In another ornate gallery in the State Rooms overlooking pretty parched gardens, we were kept topped up with more Pimms and chatted to Vince Cable, Prince Edward, and the head of the Civil Service. And of course lots of fascinating fellow award winners, including the folk from Limbs and Things (makers of fake but realistic body parts for surgeons to practice on) and Sea Salt (an ethical fashion brand from Cornwall who have been busy championing the use of organic cotton).
The Queen was brought through for some orchestrated mingling (stage managed by jolly well-spoken army chaps in civvies), and we spoke to her again. That’s what is captured on the BBC news today! She was impressed that there was such a thing as a compostable coffee cup. Dom and I told her about us creating our own Vegware tartan and offered her some tartan cups for garden parties at Holyrood. She said “Well that would be lovely,” before adding, “As long as they don’t run in the rain.” And then she moved on to chat to the next winners.
After a couple of hours of very enjoyable schmoozing and dainty boozing, we spilled out into the courtyard with our new friends, everyone slightly tipsy and trying to sneak souvenir photographs of themselves with the honey-coloured stone columns behind them.
Various people from the Royal Household reiterated that the Queen is very keen to show her appreciation to companies who are making a difference to the British economy, and Dominic and I were very pleased to represent the (growing) Vegware team. Especially if it meant sampling amazing canapés like duck terrine, watercress panna cotta on tomato oatcakes, and quails eggs with celery salt.
A common question was, “Is this the first Queen’s Award you have won?” It is, but we shall certainly be entering again. Given that Vegware now has operations in the US, South Africa, and Australia with more countries in the pipeline, we may enter the export award…
Next Tuesday nearly three dozen Vegwarians will flood Edinburgh’s City Chambers when the Lord Provost will present us with our crystal rose bowl, the official trophy for winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development. We will be in excellent company including impressive Edinburgh firms Skyscanner, Innis and Gunn. It will be fantastic to celebrate our win with the whole team. Look out Edinburgh!