Between January and July 2021, during a Covid-19 lockdown and beyond, I organised and ran a programme of virtual planetarium shows over Zoom, talking to groups of Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers across the whole of the UK. Over six or so months, this programme delivered more than 60 shows and reached over 1400 girls. As a result of all this, I was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2022.
When you are awarded an MBE, OBE, CBE, etc., you get invested into the order by one of the working royals. Not so for the British Empire Medal. Instead you get your medal presented by your local Lord Lieutenant, and an invitation to attend a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace!
I was presented with my medal by the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire at Tatton Park in October last year. The image on the left was taken that day. I really enjoyed meeting the other awardees and hearing about the excellent things they had done and for which they had been awarded the same medal. As guests, I took my partner, my mum and her husband, and Gail, my Guide leader from when I was young, and who has been a very special friend ever since. The presentation was followed by afternoon tea with the other awardees and our guests, as well as various local dignitaries. I spent a while talking to the Lord Lieutenant about the need to encourage girls, and young people generally, to take an interest in science.
May 3rd 2023 was the date of the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. On the invitation, the dress code said “day dress” for women. I don’t wear dresses very often, not since primary school anyway, they’re just so impractical. But this was a rather special occasion, so a dress it was. Rather than buy one though, I decided to make one. Out of space fabric, of course.
It was a lovely afternoon, with perfect weather (although a little chilly in a dress!). The gates opened at 3pm, tea was served in the tea tent (sandwiches, cakes, tea, apple juice, barley water, ice cream), with music provided by two military bands in tents on either side of the green. The bands were so far apart, to communicate to each other when they were playing they each had a flag pole – the flag was raised when the band played, and lowered when they finished. The gardens were lovely, well worth exploring if you ever get the chance. Lots of bluebells, as well as azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, roses, and a rather marvellous wisteria.
All in all, a lovely event, and I felt very honoured to be there. I didn’t get to meet the King though, I just saw the back of his head over a crowd of people, but it didn’t matter.
Being in London just before the first Coronation in 70 years was also a bit mad. The infrastructure for the festivities was being assembled around us, lots of roads were closed, and there were huge numbers of tourists. Leaving a restaurant on Tuesday evening, we bumped into the rehearsals for the coronation procession and got a sneak preview! Rather than look for a taxi, we walked down Whitehall towards the noise of the drums, then followed the military bands as they marched down Birdcage Walk back to the barracks. Very impressive to watch.
Thanks to all the groups who hosted me for my planetarium shows back in 2021, thanks to all the girls who watched the shows and asked brilliant questions, thanks to my UCLan colleagues who helped out with shows when demand outstripped the number of available evenings I had, and thanks to my other half for putting up with all my evening activities (and cooking dinner!). And thanks to whoever nominated me, it’s all been very special and I’m happy I was able to do something useful during such a bizarre time.
I’m still happy to visit groups to do planetarium shows, I just don’t have an actual planetarium! I do have a laptop though, all I need is a screen or white wall, a projector, and a way to make the room dark… get in touch if you’d like a visit, especially if your Brownies want to do their Space badge!
And if you know anyone who has done something amazing, do consider nominating them for an award.