I only asked the Lord Provost of Edinburgh’s executive assistant if I could please first check with my wife to ensure she did not have any other plans for the day in question because, officially, she is the reigning monarch in our wee palace.
Through research, I soon discovered that the ceremony that I would attend was very historic and indeed rare. It was only conducted ten times during the 70-year reign of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and had not been held during the previous ten years. This would be the first time that our new monarch, His Majesty King Charles III, would conduct this ceremony and I had been invited to join a small delegation of other leaders to represent our city.
To mark his accession to the throne, 27 privileged bodies including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen universities, the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Church of England, the Bank of England, and our delegation from the City of Edinburgh Corporation all travelled to present loyal addresses to our new King, offer condolences for the loss of his mother, describe their achievements, and pledge their loyalty.
Leading our delegation of four women and myself was our highly respected Lord Provost, the Right Honourable Robert Aldridge. As our train sped towards London, I noticed that our group was composed of diverse, experienced, and very hard-working third-sector leaders including people from education, faith, mental health, volunteering, and Ukrainian displaced persons. We immediately bonded over our shared pride in representing the historic city we all greatly respect and love at this rarely held ceremony.
Following a briefing from one of the palace ushers, the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra performed several musical preludes from high above in a balcony at the rear of the palatial ballroom. Suddenly, upon hearing several loud raps on the floor, hundreds of heads turned around looking to the doors at the back of the room as the Yeoman of the Guard were led forward to the solemn, rhythmic tapping of their leader’s stick, and King Charles entered the room.
The orchestra then performed God Save the King and, upon its conclusion, the King invited us to be seated. I confess that I stumbled through our national anthem, only eventually remembering to properly substitute King for Queen.
One after another, each delegation leader addressed the King. I was particularly proud of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh’s address because he spoke of the diverse tartan of human experience who make up the people of Scotland’s capital city, adding that this was exemplified by the five individuals who were sitting before the King. The Lord Provost’s words were warmly delivered, with confidence and pride, and they demonstrated the authenticity of our city’s aims and ambitions in terms of education, health, social care, inclusivity, culture, and faith.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, once again we rose and sang God Save the King and this time I could tell from the voices that were raised even more loudly around me, with reverence and indeed loyalty, that everyone in the room, including the King, had been positively and emotionally transformed by this unique ceremony.
We slowly made our way to the Picture Gallery that was filled from floor to ceiling with paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, van Dyke, Ruben, Canaletto and more. The King walked towards us, saying it was wonderful that we were all standing together to greet him as it made it much easier for him to know the groups that he was greeting.
The Lord Provost then introduced me to the King and I proudly spoke about the work that the Edinburgh Interfaith Association is doing for all faiths and none to promote education, understanding, respect, compassion and love in our city. The King proudly identifies himself as the "defender of all faiths” and extended his warm hand. I told him I was very pleased that the current Lord Provost of Edinburgh is also the first to ever become a member of the board of Scotland’s oldest interfaith association and the King nodded, confirming his satisfaction with this historic first for our city. One of our group members was originally from the Republic of the Congo and the King immediately engaged her in conversation about his personal memories of former President Mobutu.
Then, perhaps realising that he was about to ignore his other guests due to the interesting Scots he had first met, he raised his wine glass and said with a twinkle in his eye “Slainte”, a toast “to your good health!”
I returned to Edinburgh even more deeply committed to striving to demonstrate the same level of ‘servant leadership’ as described by the King when he said to us “you underpin the very foundations upon which our country is built. In doing so, you are admired around the world for your contributions to public life. You remind us of an essential truth – that a nation’s wealth and strength can be found, beyond the size of its economy or its place in the geopolitical landscape, in the values that it embodies: mutual respect, diversity, tolerance, fairness and friendship."
Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot