So, after getting over the utter shock of being nominated and awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List for services to Race Equality across the civil Service and in the Community, I thought I had a handle on the pomp and ceremony one could expect at the investiture thereof. I was wrong.
Following a series of posh letters and my confirmation by reply, I was summoned to Buckingham Place on Friday 4th May 2018. I was accompanied by my mum Sislyn, my wife Donna and my daughter Rhianne, who was even more excited than I was. We had decided to drive to the Palace, well, three pairs of high heels was always going to be a BIG ask. Upon arrival at the gates we were met by a large crowd of sightseers, all of whom seemed excited just to observe cars rolling onto the grounds of Buckingham Place. My mum responded with a regal wave of her own and a funny comment about whether or not they thought she was Meghan’s mum!
Anyhow, after the obligatory checks we were informed by one of the officers on duty that we “have the Queen today”. Our smiles only grew wider.
I was ushered into a palatial waiting room, along with Dame Darcey Bussell and Sir Paul McCartney, both of whom were extremely talkative, if not a tad nervous, like the rest of us. All sixty six of us were then prepped to receive our awards. Where to stand, how to stand, when to bow/curtsey and, of course, how to address Her Majesty. It was all very slick and super disciplined, yet still quite surreal. Meanwhile, my family of ‘guests’, were led to their seats in the exquisite Palace Ballroom, complete with live orchestra, where the award ceremony took place.
The handing out of gongs itself took about one hour. The Queen looked wonderful and when my turn to receive arrived her smile was every bit as infectious. Her Majesty asked “how are we were doing on Race Equality at the MoJ?” I replied “Well Ma’am, we are turning a few corners, but we do still have a long way to go”. At that, my OBE was pinned to my lapel, we shared a warm handshake and, with a bow, I was on my way all blinged up.
The additional and unforgettable bonus for me on what was already a truly memorable day, was to then have my mother join me back at MoJ 102 Petty France. This was the very first time my mum had ever been to my place of work since I began in 1983!!! My mum met my entire team at Project Race, a variety of my MoJ colleagues and our Permanent Secretary also popped along for a cuppa and some cake.
The entire experience was one I shall never forget. Not simply because I met the Queen, as lovely as that was. Not only because I now know that a group of determined colleagues nominated me to receive such a prestigious award, though that does fill my heart with deep joy. No, I shall never forget this experience because the entire day has left an indelible mark pinned to my heart. My investiture will serve as an eternal reminder that my career as a civil servant, together with my work in the community via The Reach Society and Relate as a Trustee, has been decorated with a rich network of friends all of whom have enabled me to do what I do and now inspire me to do more. I shall enjoy the BLING of that realisation for the rest of my life!”
In October 2018 Rob will be celebrating his 35th year as a Civil Servant. Rob’s efforts via the Ministry of Justice remain dedicated to culture change and a transformation in the way services are delivered. Rob believes that the UK’s Civil Service is on a committed journey in becoming a brilliant employer. Rob is currently working with the Civil Service Race Forum and the Cabinet Office to help deliver a step change across the Civil Service to become one of the UK’s most inclusive employers by 2020. Rob has recently been shortlisted for the Investing In Ethnicity Workplace Hero Award and the ceremony takes place on 1st November at the Hilton Waldorf Hotel.
Rob Neil OBE (Rob.Neil@justice.gov.uk), Head of Project Race
On Twitter: @ProjectRaceUK and @ReachSociety10 and @CSRaceForum