by Keith Waldon, Founder of Departure Lounge
Twice in my life I have had remarkable, magical meetings with monarchs. I share these stories with you for amusement and for some life lessons I have taken from them upon reflection.
In the early 1990s I worked for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, based in Dallas at that time. During my college internship and the beginning of my career at Rosewood, I became friends with owner Caroline Rose Hunt. Despite our many decades of difference in age and many zeroes in difference in wealth, Mrs. Hunt and I developed a wonderful friendship that I cherish to this day. She was such a special person.
In 1991, I read in the Dallas Morning News that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip would be making an official visit to Dallas in a few months. Over lunch that day with Mrs. Hunt, I suggested that she reach out to the city of Dallas and offer to assist them with the official gift to the Queen, as I knew that there was a good chance the city could use the expertise of Mrs. Hunt and her colleagues at Lady Primrose’s, a fantastic English antiques shop that Mrs. Hunt owned at The Shops and Galleries of The Crescent.
My suggestion turned into a public relations jackpot for Lady Primrose’s. The city accepted the offer of help, and the porcelain tea service the city had commissioned featuring Texas wild flowers was allowed to be displayed in the front window of Lady Primrose’s on an important English antique silver salver tray. As a result, Lady Primrose’s was featured on all the local television news stations and in the local newspapers.
On the day of the official royal visit, Mrs. Hunt surprised me in my office and asked me to stop my work and come with her. She then personally drove me to Fair Park, where Dallas’ ultra VIP list would be forming a receiving line to greet the royal couple.
Very bossy event organizers were herding the biggest names in Dallas into two zig-zag receiving lines, and each VIP had a number taped on the floor and was told to not move from the number, along with strict instruction on how to greet and interact with the royals. Each person had a special name badge with his/her name and business affiliation.
Meanwhile, there was me – a 20-something young man in a Valentino suit and black Lucchese cowboy boots shoved against a wall alone 12 feet behind one of the receiving lines. I was convinced that at any moment I would be removed from the room, as there were no others in the room other than the official VIPs. I had no name badge and no credentials. I had merely arrived in the company of one of the most revered women of Dallas.
Surprisingly, a hush came over the room, and the royals entered at the end of the room. The gathering had been told that the Queen would randomly choose one side of the room and that receiving line, and the Prince would make his way down the other side of the room and that receiving line. So there was a 50-50 chance that the Queen would make Her way down my side of the room, and she did.
The VIP bodies were tightly interwoven in a zig zag pattern, so I just would see glimpses of the Queen, her dress, her white-gloved hands, her purse, and her shoes. To my amazement, when she reached the section of the receiving line directly in front of me, I saw her white-gloved hand separate the VIPS to make way for her to walk toward me. And only toward me.
I looked over both my shoulders to make sure that there was just a wall there, and that was the case. I was not imagining that the Queen of England was making her way toward me, and I had not listened carefully as to how to address Her Majesty.
So I excitedly said “Hi, Your Majesty,” which is not what one was supposed to say. She smiled and extended her hand while searching my lapel for the name badge that was not there. She then said that “upon arriving in Texas, you are the first gentleman I have seen wearing cowboy boots, and I thought everyone would be wearing cowboy boots, so I simply had to meet you.”
Because I had no name badge, Her Majesty said “and whatever do you do?” Here’s the fun coincidence. My project at Rosewood at that time was the marketing launch of The Lanesborough hotel, which is directly across from Buckingham Palace in the former historic St. George’s Hospital building. When I shared this small-world news with the Queen, she was delighted and stood there quizzing me for 15 minutes about the interior design, the chef, the restaurants, the security, the ghost stories, you name it, about the hotel. And she wanted to know how the name of the hotel had been chosen.
Here’s the extra fun coincidence. I personally had named the hotel after doing research in the Dallas Public Library and finding that the original structure on the site had been the Lanesborough House, the home of the Viscount Lanesborough. I shared that I had passionately recommended The Lanesbourough as the hotel name because we were returning the structure to a regal residence for VIP hotel guests. She loved the story and the insider knowledge, and we both seemed quite pleased with our exchange before realizing that the entire room of VIPs and Prince Philip had all turned toward us with quizzical looks on their faces as to who is the Queen talking to and what are they talking about? Well now, almost 30 years later, you know.
As incredible as my first meeting with a monarch was, less than 10 years later, I was blessed with another even-more-magical meeting with monarchs, this time with my toddler Lili.
To end a very difficult divorce and custody battle, I moved from Dallas to the Texas hill country outside of Austin, and I purchased a modest fixer-upper farmhouse on some acreage. Today that property is called Relics Ranch and is one of the top nightly rental ranch properties in Wimberley, Texas.
The original farmhouse had/has a wraparound porch with porch swings, and on a weekend soon after I had moved into the farmhouse, Lili had woken from a nap and wanted to go outside. To our delight, the migration of the monarch butterflies had made its way to our ranch, and we walked out onto the porch to discover thousands of monarch butterflies for as far as the eye could see. It was truly like a dream.
Lili and I both laid down on the porch and let the butterflies land all over us. With each butterfly landing, Lili would giggle. Absolutely the sweetest sound ever. And I will never forget that moment and that extraordinary afternoon we spent communing with these magical creatures that had blessed us with their journey over our little section of the hill country.
Today, I’m almost 55 years old, and I’ve had years to look back on these two moments that made such a positive impact on me. Here are some things I learned from them:
Be Yourself. My parents said I was just born “different,” always boldly doing what I wanted in the style that I wanted regardless of the norms or the expected. So in a sea of fancy Ferragamo shoes, I stayed true to wearing my boots as part of my native Texas identity. If I had not been wearing boots on that royal day in 1991, I would have never met the Queen.
Let Curiosity Guide Your Way. The most famous royal in the world let curiosity guide her to stepping out of line and pursuing knowledge, understanding and connection with another culture halfway around the world from Her home. When I have done the same to explore other cultures, I have grown as a person and evolved to celebrate diversity and other beliefs instead of fearing or hating them.
Be Kind To The Uninvited. In a world of classes and boundaries and security checks, we spend a lot of energy separating the haves and the have-nots. Ultimately, we are just all humans trying to make it through this life the best way we know how. What if Mrs. Hunt had not kindly made me her guest to the royal reception? What if the Queen had had me thrown out instead of engaging in conversation? What if Lili and I saw the butterflies as pests instead of honored guests? Magic would have been extinguished.
Break Protocol Sometimes. Don’t get so caught up in knowing and following the rules that you become robotic or inhuman. Her Majesty stepped out of line to meet and impact a young Texan. Use rules as guidelines, but not absolutes that keep you from being compassionate or human. Breaking the rules without causing harm can be life changing.
Relish The Moment, Not Capturing The Moment. Both these monarch moments predated smart phones, so I was not distracted by taking photos or videos or sharing the moment “live” with “followers.” I was fully present. I remind myself that moments this special can be lost or tarnished by trying to “capture” what was meant to be spontaneous and personal.
Find The Light In Dark Times. On that afternoon in Wimberley, Texas, I was a wounded single dad of an amazing child and the throws of divorce and not being able see my child every day had taken its toll on me. The future was unsure, I had moved to a beautiful place but where I knew very few people, and I was just trying to hold it all together. Then the butterflies made Lili and me forget all of those challenges for an afternoon we will never forget. There’s always light. Find it or be it.