The Royal Hospital Chelsea Founder’s Day represents one of the best pieces of PR you could dream of. Though not the purpose it does represent the best of British.
I wanted to give a personal insight into something that really genuinely moves me. I am a proud Londoner and equally proud to be British but I do not look at our country or the world through blinkered eyes.
Last year I met a charming couple at a ball in London and the gentleman works at The Royal Hospital. Out of the blue I was invited to attend this year’s Founders Day at The Royal Hospital in Chelsea. Though I am a journalist I try to experience these things in as personal way as much as possible, so though I researched a little bit it really was a little.
My childhood memories are based around Sloane Square as my mother was one of the first female manager’s at Peter Jones in the 1950’s, and my dentist for many a year was on Lower Sloane Street, so as a wide eyed young boy my first memories of London were driving up and often parking close to The Royal Hospital and then trudging off for shoe fittings and having my teeth checked.
So you can see these brave gentlemen and now ladies in Scarlet have been in my memory bank for most of my life. Forward wind nearly 40 years and as the Editor-in-Chief of Gentlemans Butler I unsurprisingly have attended The Royal Chelsea Flower Show and Masterpiece arts event held in the grounds.
On a beautiful sunny June day I hopped on the famous 22 bus from Putney and got off just before Duke of York’s Square and walked along to the hospital finding out quite emphatically as I near by the throngs of the great and good from society dressed with serious elegance. The clergy, military, ladies, tails and top hats and all looking both happy but very proud. At this stage it’s clear that Founders Day is a day of great distinction.
The event starts with military precision, bands, etiquette and huge pride.The event has taken place almost every year since the founding of the Royal Hospital in 1681. What you do need to take into account is the average age is 82, on a warm summer’s day dressed in Scarlet and standing in line to be presented and do their walk past. There are also those in mobility scooters and some wheelchairs. I am sat surrounded by all corners of the military and can say was humbled in their presence.
I was impressed to see how the nursing staff worked hand in hand with these brave gentlemen and now ladies (since I believe the early 2000’s).
Then something happened that really moved me but equally represented a poignancy as at one point one of Chelsea pensioners collapsed most likely due to the heat. What was so impressive was to see the medical back up, nobody making undue fuss but for me the thing that really moved me was the concept of mortality. Both the armed services and our medical professionals have to deal with the issue of life and death. Though it is both their aims to save life to the rest of us seeing someone in difficulty medically is not usually an everyday occurrence. To my knowledge the gentleman concerned was fine but this whole scene was quite moving, certainly to me personally.
Founder’s Day is the highlight of the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s calendar, an event attended by all Chelsea Pensioners, which celebrates the founding of the Royal Hospital by King Charles II.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea’s Founder’s Day, also known as Oak Apple Day, is always held on a date close to 29 May – the birthday of Charles II and the date of his restoration as King in 1660.
The Princess Royal spoke and the usual goings on happened and we had the usual chit chat, post events VIP drinks.
Away from these dignitaries was what I nicknamed the fun park, beer tents, food, dancing, music all being enjoyed by the pensioners, friends, family …..I came across a contingent, good word I thought given where we were, of Belly Dancers with as you can imagine a healthy group of admirers and those taking part…
It is the wonderful thing that both the military and medical world have in common which is they deal with difficult things, physically and emotionally but know how to enjoy themselves.
This feeling of pride I had with a big smile on my face and the knowledge we do need to stand up and be counted but also know when to celebrate.
Incredibly impressive and quite moving…..