Tony’s diary: The day Prince Charles handed me my CBE

What’s it like getting a CBE?  Well, it’s an honour.

Of course it’s an honour. Queen’s Birthday Honour. But then, it really is an honour. For someone who has done nothing more than sell wine all his life it’s a totally unexpected honour.

In the great Green Drawing Room, awaiting the summons, watching the new Knights practicing their kneel, I may have irritated my very worthy fellow inductees by babbling on about how wine merchants just never expect this. Two customers among them, mind.

My brain wasn’t quite with me all day.  Nothing unusual there, but it was whirling, trying to take it all in, whilst coping with the faces popping into mind of all those who got me here, who I wished could see this.

I didn’t do it alone

My mother who so liked to boast about her only child; “my son, the wine merchant”. All Grasmere would now be getting “My son, the CBE”, were she still with us. Father just smiling quietly, with a calming Scotch.  ‘Monsieur’ and ‘Madame’; the Cassins, they who totally made an English schoolboy into a wine man. Both so very French but who adored our Royal pomp, they would be awestruck by this honour. So many faces pop into the head. 

We don’t do anything on our own, really, do we? Even the composer and the artist ahead of me in the line, without some teacher or other … I had dozens of teachers and helpers. I wished they were here. 

Monsieur Cassin who first taught Tony about wine

It’s vast is Buckingham Palace, a really long walk down the picture gallery and on into the huge Ballroom. It has tiered seats around the walls. They could play tennis in here, maybe they do. Today the orchestra is playing. All our guests are seated and waiting. We also wait at a side door as old Yeomen guard the dais in front of the huge draped throne. Great photo op. except they took our phones at the front door.  Senior military chaps marshal things. Prince Charles and retinue stride in, it’s a tradition the bodyguard is two Gurkha officers. More effective than ancient Yeomen with halberds, I guess. He says to sit and we are off. Like a well oiled machine. The musicians now playing numbers from My Fair Lady. The first chap in, tall chap, said he ran National Security or something, advances in time to “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”. Looking at the music list shouldn’t he have got Bond’s “Nobody Does it Better”?

Did I say Your Royal Highness?

Then suddenly it’s me. Barbara – who more than me earned all this – Will and Tom grinning at me from the audience. Don’t mess it up Dad. Legs need strict control, concentrate,  don’t slouch,  just remember to walk up to the Air Vice Marshal and stop with shoulder to the centre of his chest. He’s grinning. What’s he whispering? He a customer too?  Mind goes blank. And deaf. Someone apparently said “For services to the wine industry in the U.K. and globally”.  I hear just ‘…Laithwaite” so lurch forward three paces, turn,  bow, and take three more paces forward to the dais. That so- familiar face smiling broadly, putting something glittery round my neck , asking if I’m still working.

Barbara and Tony Laithwaite during the harvest at Windsor Great Park vineyard
Barbara and Tony Laithwaite during the harvest at Windsor Great Park vineyard

We’ve met before when I showed him round our Windsor Great Park Vineyard, which is, after all, on his land. He hopes I’ll now be encouraged to keep at it. So do I, Sir. Three paces backwards, do not trip, turn right in front of the other Air Vice Marshal and get led out. I ask the chap if many fall over. A few he says. It’s the backwards bit gets ‘em, sir. Doubts now. Did I actually bow? Did I address him as Your Royal Highness? Blank. They take it off my neck and put it in a box. Gosh it is so beautiful. 

A drink at last!

Then I’m taken in again to the back of the audience to sit through as 81 people get their OBEs and MBEs. Prince Charles chats with everyone. No one feels rushed or short-changed. Everyone gets the full attention. Extraordinary professionalism that doesn’t seem it at all. He’s genuinely interested in everyone’s story. But then there are so many amazing stories here today. One chap we meet came here on a motorbike. He’s riding around the world on it – for the third time! – raising needed money. 

Tony’s CBE medal

I keep saying “but I just sell wine”. Mind you there is the fact that last year the Exchequer got a lot of millions from our company. And will again this year, and has done for quite a few years now. I guess that counts. Then it’s all over and down the vast staircase to photos in the courtyard. “Ooh! the Big One” says the lady behind the lens. Now who wouldn’t like that? Pose smugly. Then out past the gates to familiar streets and at last, a drink.

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About Laithwaites Wine

Laithwaite's began in 1969, when Tony Laithwaite took a job washing bottles in Bordeaux... and fell in love with real wine and the people who make it. When he borrowed a van to share these delicious wines with friends and neighbours at home, things went so well that boutique wineries were soon queuing to take part. Today we're the UK's No.1 home-delivery wine merchant, with over 1,500 wines to choose from... including red, white and rosé, plus Champagne and sparkling, beer and cider.

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