21 years ago!
Read the hilarious, well written and full story further below.
As you may already know, my brother Neil won the Beazley Medal 1999 which is awarded to the top student in Western Australia. Among his many honours was a chance to meet the Queen on her recent visit to WA.
We received the special VIP badges and all the pertinent regal details for the correct protocol in the mail and excitedly waited for the evening where we would stand with other important guests to see the Queen. Neil was only allowed to bring one guest to the event so I was the lucky one, Mum and Dad opting to watch their sons venture into the royal sphere. The only problem was that the event was on Shabbat, so we decided to walk the three hours back from Government House in the city to our house in the ‘burbs.
So on Friday night Mum and Dad took a million photos as we dressed in the best suits we could muster together: unfortunately the best was unmatching jackets and pants. So an hour before Shabbat came in we were dropped off at Government house and waited with another 600 people to be escorted to the gardens. Needless to say, our first hitch came at the entrance to Government House where we were the only pair questioned by the guards as to whether we were meant to be there. Producing the little invitations proudly, they hesitantly let us in. One point that must be noted is that both Neil and I have eye-brow rings: a feature that will play a more significant role later in this little yarn.
We walked into the gardens and they had set up a huge marquis with a dais and three aisles marked out by large gold ropes. We assumed that the aisles were for the royal party, while the areas behind the ropes were reserved for the privileged plebs: us! But as we got to the entrance to the marquis, we noticed that unlike the majority of other guests, our name badges had a little gold star in the corner. Before we knew it we had been escorted into the aisle area and were being briefed on royal protocol. It was then that we realised that we were among the ‘honoured’ list of guests! What that meant was that we would get a personal introduction to the Duke of Edinburgh as he and the Queen walked down the aisle to the dais.
Ok… so this is what happened. After waiting for 45 minutes for the Queen to arrive we were becoming more and more anxious and excited. We stood there dead-straight at attention for quite some time, practising the correct manner of addressing the Duke: Your Royal Highness, Your Royal Highness, Your Royal Highness (again and again under our breaths).
Finally the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh arrived, accompanied by the Premier of WA Mr Richard Court and his wife Mrs Court. After a rendition of G-d Save the Queen and a few speeches, the Queen and Duke were asked to meet the honoured guests: the Queen was meant to walk down one side of the aisle while the Duke was meant to walk down the other side. Evidently no one had briefed the Queen about what she was meant to do, because before we knew it she was walking down the wrong side and the wrong way down the aisle.
Now Neil and I had been positioned at the very end of the line so that we would meet the Duke of Edinburgh last, but the Queen was now approaching us first – obviously believing that we were the most important people at the ceremony: Neil and I were the most honoured guests!
So as she walked down towards us, I quickly reminded Neil that she was Your Majesty and NOT Your Royal Highness! Unfortunately, however, while the Queen believed we were the most important people, our Premier Mr Court had no idea who in the world we were! He was only equipped with the list of names on the opposite side of the aisle and was totally unprepared to explain to the Queen who we were. So when she finally reached us and stood just a foot in front of me waiting to be introduced to the most important Western Australian, the Premier just stood there, pale-faced and in a panic.
So here we are. The tiny 4 foot high Queen with 1 foot of blue hair, the confused and anxious Premier, and the two oversized Jewish boys with big colourful kippot, eye-brow rings and unmatching suits. The Queen waited. We waited. The Premier looked down at our name badges at RABINOWITZ and deciding not to dare attempt pronouncing it, he waited too. So Neil and I did the only thing we thought appropriate. Simultaneously we attempted a little bow. The Queen looked at us and nodding at first, she freaked out. Obviously feeling a bit intimidated, she ran off to meet some people of less unordinary appearance on the other side of the group..
Anyway, if you thought that the Rabinowitz boys had stopped at just intimidating the Queen, be prepared.
The Duke arrives a few minutes later (approaching from the correct direction), accompanied by Mrs Court who has all the names of the people he’s meeting in front of her. Upon reaching Neil, Mrs Court introduces him as the Beazley medallist. Now as you already know, the correct manner of addressing the Queen is Your Majesty and the Duke is Your Royal Highness. So as Neil is introduced he throws out his hand to the Duke and shaking it he says:
“ It’s an honour to meet you, Your Majesty”
Quickly I stick out my hand and say:
“Your Royal Highness”
hopefully just muffling the insult that Neil had just inflicted on the man. So already we had started with him on a bad note.
Anyway, the Duke didn’t seem to notice that Neil had just insulted him so he continued to ask Neil who he was… that is, what school did he come from. So Neil replies:
“Carmel School, it’s a PRIVATE Jewish DAYSCHOOL”
Now in England, to cut a very long explanation of the school system short, private schools are the equivalent of Australia’s public schools and state schools in England are called private schools. So basically, in English terms, Neil had just said that he attended a private school that was also public: an impossibility in England.
“I think you’re mixed up, young man. You can’t have gone to both a state school and a public school” says the Duke to Neil. He tells Neil, the “smartest” kid in Western Australia that he is wrong. And Neil is stumped. He doesn’t know what to do.
Well, for anyone who knows me, you would know that I can NEVER resist an argument.
“No no no,” I say, “In Australia we call your public schools private and your private schools public. In England they’re mixed up”
The Duke just stood back aghast… he couldn’t believe that I’d talked let alone the fact that I’d contradicted him. Added to the fact that he has just been called Your Majesty by Neil, the Duke was obviously a bit miffed.
So a very serious expression suddenly crosses the Duke’s face and looking dead into both of our eyes (if that is possible with only one pair to him) he lifts his index finger to us and shaking at us he says:
“No no… I think you’re mistaken” and walks off in a huff leaving the Premier’s wife standing there, open-mouthed in surprise.
The Duke, making his way back to the dais, the Queen disappearing on the other side of the crowd, Neil and I burst out laughing. We had managed quite successfully, although obviously unintentionally, to snub and intimidate the Queen and then insult and contradict the Duke. We downed a couple of orange-juice and champagnes before the long walk home.
Also pulbished in the InReview Magazine