Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes when a school welcomes HM The Queen? Headmaster of Felsted in Essex, Dr Mike Walker, reveals all

Felsted school in Essex enjoyed the crowning moment of its 450-year celebrations in May, when the reigning monarch, Her Majesty The Queen, visited the School with her husband, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Felsted is one of only an elite band to reach this historic milestone, and it was for this reason that we were honoured with such a distinguished guest. It was truly a very special day for all our pupils and staff, but also for our wider community of parents, the village, local schools, businesses and many of our former Felstedians.

So how did we make it happen? Well, we knew we wanted to mark the occasion with a royal visit, as happened for the 400th anniversary, when The Queen Mother visited the school. We were advised through our contacts that the correct protocol was to request a royal visit via The Lord Lieutenant’s Office in Essex, and for us this was Lord Petre. An initial approach resulted in Felsted being pencilled in the royal diary last September, but it was not until February that we were notified it would actually be the reigning monarch and that it would be combined with a Service at Chelmsford Cathedral to celebrate 100 years of the Diocese of Chelmsford. We were obviously absolutely delighted and then somewhat overwhelmed by what we had to do to get things ready, particularly as it had to be kept secret until only two weeks before the event!

So the planning began with several top secret meetings with Palace staff. I appointed one of our senior and most efficient school PAs as our Royal Coordinator six weeks prior to the event, and this was crucial to ensure the day ran smoothly and to coordinate with all parties involved, including BuckinghamPalace and specially invited guests. The Chairman of Governors and I spent much time going through the guestlist, with the tricky part of sending special invitations out without being able to say who the special guest was! The level of detail was incredible; from providing mini biographies of everyone who attended lunch to the detailed plans of all the surrounding school buildings for police security! All the pupils and teachers had to be fully briefed, with many showcasing displays to the royal couple on the day.

The Works Department had a crucial role to play, coordinating the highly detailed security arrangements both with local and royal police, plus the enhancement of buildings on the royal route through the school. This involved the repainting of many walls, lamp posts, an upgrade of our guest facilities and even the removal of a speed bump for the royal car! Teams of police scoured the site the weekend before, all gutters and drains were checked, and every item in every classroom was scrutinised.

The Marketing Department were also heavily involved, coordinating all the press (royal, national and local) before, during and after the visit, and all communications online and offline including social media and print work (invitations, a Royal Programme, flags to wave, the Royal Menu etc).

The Catering Department had the ultimate honour of cooking and serving for The Queen, which included submitting menus for her to choose from and a number of tastings prior to the big day itself. The Grounds Department also made a significant impact to ensure the school site looked amazing on the day; they even covered the flower tubs with muslin to protect them from the heat and keep the earth moist.


What happened when HM The Queen visited Felsted

The visit itself began with Her Majesty and His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, arriving to glorious sunshine. They drove across the front of the school, greeted by Felsted pupils and staff, waving Union Jacks. Upon arrival at the Lord Riche Hall, which was opened by Princess Anne in 1989, the royal couple were greeted by the National Anthem, played by Felsted’s Corps of Drums and a Guard of Honour by the Felsted Combined Cadet Force. They were then introduced to myself, the Headmistress of the Preparatory School, our Chairman of Governors, and our Head Boy and Girl, amongst others.

They were then escorted to a private lunch, prepared by Felsted’s nervous but excited catering department, where she dined on Pheasant Smitane. The royal couple put everyone at ease right from word go, including our Head Girl and Head Boy who dined with them.
This was followed by a formal Presentation Ceremony with more specially invited guests, where Her Majesty unveiled two plaques and signed a guest book for the School.
The Ceremony included short speeches from the Chairman of Governors and myself, welcoming the royal couple and celebrating all that Felstedians have achieved over the years. These have included many high profile professional achievements such as the architectural design of the British Library through to a world leading scientific study on the cure for cancer. These were also accompanied by some wonderful singing, including Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ and a mesmeric performance of the Felsted 450th anthem, ‘Let The People Praise You’, specifically composed for the anniversary year by Alexander L’Estrange.  

Members of the Felsted Common Room presented the royal couple with a special oil painting of Felsted and a book detailing the 450years history of the school. There was also a presentation of a boot scraper, made by students, which is a new royal tradition at Felsted, as the HM the Queen Mother also received a boot scraper on her visit for the 400th anniversary!

Following the anniversary ceremony, The Queen was presented with a posy of flowers by a Pre-Preparatory School pupil, and a Felsted bear from a Preparatory School pupil. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh received a tie from our Deputy Head of School. The royal couple then left by the Royal helicopter, much to the delight of all!

There were lots of little touches that one could talk to you about; the royal couple managed to speak with and acknowledge so many people during their few hours with us. I have been referring to this visit as the tale of three Elizabeth’s; the school was founded in 1564, during the reign of Elizabeth I; HM The Queen Mother came here 50 years ago; and now of course we have had the outstanding honour for the school of the reigning Monarch visiting. When I pointed this out to the HM Queen at lunch she burst out laughing! They were very relaxed, informal, and absolutely lovely. This visit has meant so much to everyone here. Of all the days as a teacher and Headmaster, this is the one day I will always remember as the most special one; I am overwhelmingly proud to have been Headmaster at such an incredible event.

Felsted School, Dunmow CM6 3LL; 01371 822600; felsted.org