A Rare Royal Opportunity
On 10 November, St Christopher’s was very proud to welcome HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to the Infant and Junior School in Saar. We had been busy planning the visit for a number of weeks, but were not able to tell staff, pupils and parents until authorised to do so by the British Embassy, this made planning the event quite a challenge!
With the vision that the tour would culminate with a whole primary school photograph on the Tiger Turf, Mr Mannings was tasked with planning the logistics of this most challenging task. With a little white lie told to the children that the photo would be for the School Year Book, Year 2 children helped plan the layout of the photo in early morning practices with the help of cleaners and caretakers posing as our VIP guests!
Meanwhile, Reception teachers were working on a cooking activity, as we were informed the Duchess had an interest in healthy eating, and Year 2 and Year 6 pupils were working together to write poems based on Kit Wright’s ‘The Magic Box’; literacy being another area of interest.
With a wealth of musical talent in St Chris, we thought it would be both visually and aurally stunning to have the choir perform from the library atrium as the Duchess paused to look up. This would be complemented with some young, virtuoso musicians positioned strategically in the main corridor playing as she walked past. In the Junior Hall, a carousel of activities showcasing Arabic Studies and the forthcoming Y5 Tudor Day would round off the visit before the big photograph. To commemorate the visit, Mrs Dales and Mr Wilkins had created a huge ‘200’ piece of artwork to celebrate 200 years of Bahraini-British relations, which almost everyone in the school had signed. We left a space for honoured guests to sign too.
So, with plans in place and the news embargo lifted, the School did a full rehearsal on Tuesday morning two days before the visit. Sarah Bull, PA to the Principal, stood in for the Duchess, with tiara perched on her head: Sarah now enjoys celebrity status around the school with our younger children waving happily at ‘the Princess’ whenever they see her!
The day arrived and the excitement was palpable. As zero hour approached, uniforms were straightened, shoes were shone and hair was brushed – and that was just the staff!
With the benefit of closed roads, a police escort and reserved parking, HRH the Duchess arrived at school bang on time at 11.40 (if only we could all experience such easy trips to Saar!). She was greeted by Ed Goodwin and Sael Al Waary and then introduced to HE Dr Majid Al Nuaimi, Minister of Education.
Accompanied by HH Shaikha Hessa and an entourage from the school and her official party and radiant in an elegant long, pink tunic dress, the Duchess walked up the entrance to school stopping to speak with children and staff from Nursery, Year 3 and Year 4, who lined the pathway enthusiastically waving British and Bahraini flags. Members of the Board of Governors, The Head Boy and Girl, and two Year 4 student councillors, Sofiya and Fawaz, were next to be introduced before the tour began.
The smell of carrot cake greeted the Duchess as she entered the Reception Activity Street and she quickly made herself at home chatting with the children and helping them to ice their cakes. Jamiela presented the Duchess with her own, carefully baked cake and, as the entourage had not yet stopped for lunch, her security guards quickly gobbled cakes offered to them and then asked for another, definitely giving our Reception bakers the Royal seal of approval!
In the library, George did a fabulous job reading his poem and the choir’s rendition of ‘Sing’ was really moving and clearly HRH enjoyed it greatly.
Chris and Momo played like the professionals we hope they will one day be and then the tour moved into the Junior Hall.
After a brief chat with Zouheir in role as Henry VIII, the Duchess spent some time learning about Bahrain from Hessa, Salman and Ailya. With the 200-year artwork signed, the Duchess walked out to the Tiger Turf to applause and cheers from the assembled children and adults.
Behind the scenes, the school had got into place for the photograph, with the visitors being none the wiser. “10 out of 10”, whispered one of the Duchess’ staff as she took her seat for the photo, to be taken by Bronwen Kruger, some 9 metres in the air on our cherry-picker. Mr Mannings could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Saying goodbye to St Christopher’s is difficult, but the visit was nearly over. The Duchess passed Reception children lining the corridor to wave goodbye. Staff who have worked for the School for between 19 and 34 years assembled in the main entrance for an introduction and acknowledgement of their loyal service. Lining the path to the main gate were administration staff, cleaners, coaches, security guards and caretakers: the Duchess took her time to speak with many of them and ask them about their role.
The Head Boy and Girl, Anish and Michaela, were in place to present the Duchess with a commemorative piece of artwork created by our talented senior school artists. Created out of 200 poppies, the artwork depicts the British and Bahrain flags together acknowledging both the long standing relationship between the countries and Armistice Day, when our thoughts are with fallen soldiers. Finally, Ed Goodwin and Sarah Bull accompanied the Duchess to her car and the entourage swept out of the grounds.
Did the visit go as well as we’d hoped? Absolutely. Her Royal Highness spent far more time chatting with pupils and staff than we had expected and she was so warm and friendly with everyone. As ever, St Christopher’s pupils made us proud and our thanks go to them and everyone who made the visit a successful and memorable one.