It's hard to believe that already a year has passed since the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
A year ago on Sunday, I was excitedly sat on my horse - Doncaster, clad immaculately in state regalia, escorting Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh from Westminster Abbey, along the royal procession route up to Buckingham Palace.
The whole experience will live with me forever, naturally, and the hundreds of hours of preparation, which in the end paid off, is very much still fresh in my mind, as if it were only yesterday.
The saga started four weeks before with rehearsals in Hyde Park, which was of huge delight to tourists passing by. I guess there's something magic about witnessing us on our horses preparing for a big parade. The tourists - American mostly, would sit and watch for hours. A little frustrating when someone falls off.
As the day drew near, our rehearsals took a more real turn, and we began practising in full uniform, along the actual procession route, in the darkness of night. Riding along Whitehall at four in the morning is an incredible experience, there is something very majestic about the great landmarks of our capital appearing through the breaking morning light.
The media village, which was assembled opposite Buckingham Palace was always a hive of activity, and when we rehearsed in the very early mornings, they would be awake and practising their coverage too. I remember clear, being sat on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, looking directly across to the media village and seeing a very wide eyed Piers Morgan rehearsing his part- which would be broadcasting the event live to his american audience.
For the Royal Wedding, I had a very notable role to play in the procession: I was to be the rear guard of the Household Cavalry (amusing for some), changing to the Advance Guard for the ride back to our Knightsbridge barracks once the Royal party had been delivered to the Palace. Of all the times I've taken part in state processions, this was the most exciting and important role I'd ever been given. I was immensely proud of my special job, my mother found it more pleasing still... making sure everyone in our Welsh village knew and understood fully my role on the big day. It was also really useful for pointing out where I would be on the TV.
Two days before, a full dress rehearsal at 0600 brought home to all of us that this momentous event was just around the corner. That morning we were in the stables at 3 o' clock, waking up the horses, grooming, getting dressed, the inspection - the dreaded inspection, and then the admin move from Hyde Park Barracks to Westminster Abbey through Victoria. We were all in place when two people, acting as the newlyweds, though not as glamorous, appeared at the West door and climbed into the waiting carriage.
Whilst all this was happening, hundreds of supporters from across the globe, already in place opposite the Abbey enjoyed watching a behind the scenes full rehearsal, 48 hours prior to the real thing. I spoke to one excited American lady who was only too delighted to have been awoken by the hundreds of horses clip clopping past her tent. She had travelled alone, thousands of miles to see the event, and her eagerness had paid off, as she'd secured the best spot to see the Prince and his new wife appear at the West door. She told me in our brief conversation that she was last here in '97 for the funeral. A devoted Royalist from across the pond; and I'm sure she will remember the morning she woke to find outside her tent, a young Household Cavalryman, as excited as she was probably, sat on a huge black horse, happy to have a quick chat.
After the rehearsal, there was no time to relax...it was full systems go for the big day. Horses bathed, boot polish melted off and then re-applied for six or so hours, tunics dry cleaned and helmets scrubbed. My white breeches needed hot washing and then re-painting and then the final touches of polishing my Iraq medal and hanging my red plume. There didn't seem to be enough time in the world - but there never does whilst preparing for a state escort, however, everyone involved got on with their jobs because it was simply the most amazing occasion ever. Something to tell the grand children. I'd never felt like that before an escort, and I know the other boys hadn't either.
Finally the day arrived. The day the world had been waiting for, officially since the announcement in the early winter, but actually, all of Prince William's life.
My day started early, as always, with stables at six. The horses were well up for it... they knew something massive was about to happen, as we did, and the barracks soon became busy with many media types, all trying to cover every aspect of the big day. There was BBC film crews, Forces news teams, journalists and other special guest, who all wanted to see this sacred pre- parade ritual that goes on away from public view, every time the Queen opens parliament, or the head of a foreign state makes an official visit.
The inspection was to begin at half past nine, at which point we all had to be in position on the regimental square for the Commanding Officer to come around and check the standards of every single man and horse. A soldier or a horse that is nothing short of immaculate, will not make it out of the regimental gates and is punished severely; however, that was not to be the case on this grandest of days. Everyone was beyond immaculate.
About halfway through his inspection, a noise that I've never heard before rocked the capital. What on earth was it? Was it a bomb? Was it the sound of a building crashing to the ground?
The noise started off as a deep hum, then slowly raised into a great rupture of volume and literally made the ground shake. Horses were spooked by this phantom sound, alarmed, as was I by what I could hear but not see.
This was the moment the Duchess appeared at the entrance to her hotel in that amazing dress. It was the sound of the whole world applauding the incredible sight of a future Queen, it was the moment the world gave out one huge gasp of breath and then cheered.
After the noise died down, and order was regained on the square, the Colonel gave us a few words to get us all fully focused. He remind us of just who exactly we were: We were the Sovereign's own escort. Nobody else's. We were the Household Cavalry, and in our 350th year, we were about to show the world we meant business.
The regiment set off, and I followed at the very rear. Looking down the parade, all the way to the front, where behind the Advance Guard, rode the Colonel and the Trumpeter, hundreds and hundreds of adoring fans cheered us as we went by.
Down Constitution Hill and past the front of the Palace, we slowly made our way through the streets of Victoria and halted about 200 metres up the road from the Abbey. There we were held for about 30 minutes until at last, the happy couple appeared at the door!
They waved a little and soon mounted their carriage, heading off to the palace accompanied by a division of Blues and Royals. Shortly after the Queen appeared at the West door, and got into her state coach. We were off. A slow trot at first, but as expected, we opened up on the Mall, and practically skidded to a halt on the gravel outside Buckingham Palace. The crowd was going mental.
As I was making my way up the Mall at the very back of the escort, unbelievably, in all that volume, a school friend of mine and her family, who had camped out on the Mall for days, screamed my name and waved excitedly at me as I flew past. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I took my mind off the job momentarily and gave a little wave and a nod back. That was my highlight. Seeing a face from my past, at the most amazing moment of my career. And I know my school friend was delighted I'd heard her shouts and acknowledged back. Incredible.
Once we delivered the Royal Party to the Palace, there was no time to hang around... soon the couple would appear to thousands of loyal well wishers from the balcony above for that kiss and we needed to be well out of the way by then.
Immediately, I took over as the Advance Guard, and led my regiment out of the gates of Buckingham Palace, and up Constitution Hill, en route to our Knightsbridge base. At Wellington Arch, on Hyde Park Corner, I turned my head and looked back at the sight. I knew what I was about to see would be the lasting image on my mind from that entire day, and what I saw brought tears to my eyes: Every single horse in our great regiment; the Colonel, his Trumpeter and then four full divisions of mounted guards, all carrying swords, following me, and my faithful Doncaster, who had behaved impeccably throughout.
We arrived back at the barracks, entering through the Ceremonial gate and saw our families patiently waiting for us, all wearing smiles of pride. My mother, my husband and our closest friends, had come into camp to share the experience with me, and they'd had a fabulous time watching from our Mess back at camp.
We formed up, the Colonel said a few congratulating worlds, and the order was given to dismount. My last duty of the day was to give the nod that signified to everybody dismount. I did it sharply, and the sound of 250 jackboots hitting the concert after being in the saddle for three hours cracked out across the barracks. We led our horses up the stables and fed them off. They had been the real heroes of the day. They carried us all brilliantly and on the whole, (mostly) behaved perfectly.
I haven't ridden, or taken part in any ceremonial occasion since that amazing day... and I know now that I never will again.
A very happy first anniversary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
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