I was both honoured and delighted to be invited by the President of CILT, to attend the prestigious Institute Excellence Awards held at the very swanky Lancaster Gate Hotel, deep in central London Town. I was even more delighted to be invited to meet her royal highness Princess Anne at a private reception before the bunfight started in earnest. This is always an exciting and enjoyable experience and is indeed the fourth time that I have met her. The first was in 1984 so some 35 years ago if my maths are any good (which they are not by the way).
Indeed I was tempted to ask her if she remembered the occasion herself, but decided not to bother. The format is as follows the 40 odd invited guests are ushered into a separate reception area, where champers and vino are offered to quell any pre match nerves. Then each group is split into groups of ten, with an appointed Master of Ceremonies, whose role it is to introduce the individuals one at a time. My group was headed up by Professor Richard Wilding all round good egg, and nice chap. HRH then shakes each persons hand while the official photographer snaps away so recording the meeting for eternity and of course the family album. I was in group number 3, and at position number five. To my left was a very nice man called Neil who was a very senior Director from the Stagecoach group. As she got closer she had a quick chat with Neil who told her about the activities in Stagecoach. After the allocated minute or so, her gaze turned to me and Richard introduced me as the Chairman of the Bus and Coach Forum of CILT.
We gently shook hands (well actually her glove) and she said so hows the bus and coach forum doing. I replied very well thank you Ma’m it has been a very busy year with greater than ever political interest in the sector than ever before. Then Richard said Austin makes very interesting Apps for transport Companies all over the world. This seemed to spark her interest so she said “Oh, what sort of Apps, and where “ I replied well all over the UK with National Express Coach, First UK bus and Train, Dublin with Go Ahead but our biggest market is in the USA with First Student who transport over 6 and half million schoolchildren every day. Oh she replied so do all the children have an app, yes I replied as do the parents and the schools. So, the parents can track the children using the bus? Yes, I replied what a great idea why don’t we have that in the UK. Then she asked Neil next to me do Stagecoach have this . Not that exactly but we have passenger apps. She then turned back to me and said so is technology leading the bus industry, to which I replied I do believe that it is starting to ma’m.
My scheduled minute had now gone into three, so with that she was off talking to Emma next to me about robots in haulage depots in Finland. She is actually really very good at these events and she duly handed out all the awards and gave an excellent closing speech. The event was compared by the excellent Reverend Richard Green. Formally part of the Jimmy Somerville eighties techno pop duo The Communards, and a one time competitor of strictly, and a semi finalist from Master Chef. He is these days a serving chaplain with a diocese in Northamptonshire, and an extremely funny and engaging entertainer and compare, one of the best I have seen to be fair. So, as HRH prepared to leave we all stood up and offered polite applause in recognition of her time and long contribution as the Patron of CILT. God Bless her as they say, and all who sail in her!