Sunday, 27 April 2014

Connie's Diary: The Royal Visit (with apologies!)

Well, I have been extraordinarily slack with my blogging since half way through the ride, I have been thinking of starting my blog again for ages, but haven’t known where to start, because there is so much to write about. About 2 weeks ago Sam and I were approached by the staff at Government House to see if we would be interested in coming to a function with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 24th April. Well what a funny question that is! Sam and I were gobsmacked, and YES, of course we would be interested. It was all very hush hush, we weren’t allowed to talk about it until after the event, which was very difficult. One of the most exciting things to ever happen in my life and I wasn’t allowed to talk about it – torture, for me, as I am an open book, and am terrible at keeping secrets. Now it is over, and we have been to the function we are allowed to talk about it, and that is exactly what I want to do.

I will re-start my blog with my royal experience. This function was hosted by Your Excellency, the Governor General, Peter Cosgrove, and Lady Cosgrove It was to be a cocktail function, and Sam’s invitation specified a dress code of Lounge Suit, whilst mine stated Cocktail. So I immediately started rummaging around for something to wear. Kate always looks so elegant and beautiful, the thought of being in the same room as her was quite daunting.

I am very lucky to have a dress sponsor, who jumped on board when she saw our story on The Project early last year, at the beginning of the ride. Her name is Karen Ristevski, and she has her own label called Bella Bleu. Karen makes the most beautiful dresses, and has quite a few in her line that are suitable for me to wear without prosthetic breasts. Nice high necked flowy designs that could be worn by flat or ample chested women alike. Karen has generously donated a heap of frocks for me to wear for any occasion, and she had the perfect little number for meeting the royals in.

Last year, we did a story with The Today Show, and Karl Stefanovic came to my place to interview Sam and me. On that day a lovely lady, Vicki Hayes, came to do my make-up. She made me feel presentable enough to be on the TV, and was really nice, so I gave her a call to request her to do my make-up for the royal occasion. Vicki made some time and came over to spruce me up before the big night. Thank Vicki, for making me feel beautiful and confident for this big deal. (Vicki’s web site can be found here.)  Sam hired a suit for the purpose, and he looked dashing, it’s a shame we don’t have occasion for him to dress up very often, because he looks rather dapper when he makes an effort. 

When we arrived, His excellency made an introductory speech and it was then that we found out who’s company we were in. It was a function for young people who are at the top of their fields, in Sport, The Arts, Medicine, Science, Environmental Service, Human Services and Community Service. There were 100 guests there, and I felt quite out of place amongst people like Harry Kewell, Layne Beachley, Guy Sebastian and Yassmin Abdel-Magied from Youth Without Borders.

When Their Excellencies, the Cosgroves, entered the room with the Duke and Duchess I was so star struck. I don’t think there are many people in the world who are more photographed. They are so familiar and I recognised their faces from seeing them in the media so much over the years, it felt quite weird being in the same room. My heart was a flutter and I felt like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert. I felt weak at the knees and felt nauseous, and it wasn’t the medical treatment, just the excitement.

We were really honoured to meet Her Excellency Quentin Bryce last year, while Sam was riding through the Canberra region. This was an honour in itself, but a pleasant occurrence on the side was meeting Al and Jo and several other staff at Government House. I was so impressed with how professional, but also how genuinely friendly the staff were, and tonight was no different. We saw a few familiar faces and met some staff we hadn’t previously met, and they made us feel most welcome and comfortable.

It was all really proper and formal, as you would expect, there were no photos allowed, unfortunately, but the Duke and Duchess themselves were so genuine and polite and caring. Will was really charming and Kate was so elegant, it made my head spin to think I had just spoken to them.

When I met Kate, Sam had disappeared to find a drink, and he left me to my own devices. I was in a small circle of people we had been talking to, and when she came around to us, and she asked each of us what we do. When it was my turn, I told her about Love Your Sister, and how Sam had ridden around Australia for Breast Cancer research and awareness. She was genuinely amazed and asked where he was, I said that he had just slipped away and would be back. She said she would like to meet him, and when he returned, she turned around again, and said “This must be the amazing brother.” She remembered what we had been talking about, I was amazed. She asked lots of questions about my personal experience with cancer, and how we started Love Your Sister and what it involved. She also asked if we had received much support along the way.

Kate was really engaged in our conversation, and she had a tear in her eye when I was telling her that I am terminal and the reason we started LYS was to try to prevent other young children from losing their mums, like my children will lose me. Telling the Duchess of Cambridge about what we have achieved over the last 18 months, really brought home to me just how much we have done. Sam did an amazing thing, not just for me, but for all people with breast cancer and their families and friends. I am so proud of him, and what we achieved. When Sam spoke to William about what we had done, how much money we have raised so far, and what had motivated us, he was very proud to be able to tell him that we had received amazing support from people all over Australia, and that the support we had received was what made Love Your Sister so special.

As amazing as it was to meet Will and Kate, the whole event was quite special, Sam was absolutely floored when he saw Harry Kewell enter with his beautiful wife Sheree, and Sam and I ended up hanging out with them, and a lovely couple from Canberra, Mike (a sporting clothing company director, who works with underprivileged kids to promote health through sport in Fiji and New Guinea, and Alison (a food blogger). Our little group spent the night laughing and making fun of ourselves and how star struck we were by this surreal experience. It was such a fun night, but by the end of it, I was in a lot of pain and feeling very tired, so I had to find a place to sit down. Sam and I were so impressed by how both Will and Kate engaged so personally with everyone they met. They listened to each person with interest and genuine friendliness and were so considerate, giving each person as much time as they could, but politely moving on so everyone could have a turn.

The highlight of the evening for Sam was listening to Harry Kewell and William talk about soccer and Williams response to Harry’s question, “So why do you support Aston Villa??

As the Duke and Duchess left the event, they nodded and waved to Sam and I. Sam was quite proud that he was acknowledged by both of them, and made fun of me because only Kate acknowledged me! We are such a pair of dags.

As soon as we got home we ditched the fancy clothes, got our slippers on, put on our big fluffy dressing gowns, and had a quiet drink on the Balcony, reflecting on the whole experience. As many highlights as there were, a few little things stood out.

  • Harry Kewell knew about Love Your Sister, when Sheree explained who we were, he said, “Yeh, I know” and started telling us how he had heard about Love Your sister on the radio. Sam was blown away, and I was so proud.

  • Kate remembered what I had told her about when I met her the second time, and was excited to meet Sam, “the amazing brother”.

  • The staff at Government House going above and beyond to make us feel welcome and comfortable.

  • The lovely messages of support that we received on Facebook when we posted about what we were about to do. People were so genuinely happy for us, it was lovely.