On 8 June, as part if the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the granting of the town charter to the borough by King James I, Her Majesty the Queen visited Romsey. Amid tight security and accompanied by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, she attended a service in the Abbey at which we sang.
Our day began early: we were instructed to report, with ‘staff passes’ and our passports to the Church Rooms by no later than 8 am for ‘airport-style security screening’. This completed, we robed and practised, initially by ourselves and then with trumpeters from the Royal Marines.
By this time the Abbey was filling fast with both familiar faces from the Abbey congregation and representatives from other churches and civic organisations. Conversation was subdued yet excited as people took photos of each other: men in the best suits and ladies in hats. The Abbey itself was decked out with a plethora of white and pink floral arrangements in peonies, roses and lilies.
With a few minutes to go, the Vicar instructed everybody that all digital cameras were to be switched off. For their part, the choristers were told that on no account were they to stare at the Queen!
Perhaps a little earlier than expected, the royal party was at the North Door and, to a majestic fanfare, it made its entrance. As instructed members of the choir studiously avoided even a glance in the prohibited direction and then turned to the task in hand.
The music comprised the hymn Now thank we all our God and Herbert Howells’ setting of the Jubilate Deo, part of his Collegium Regale morning service. On only its second outing in the Abbey it received a spacious yet well-articulated reading.
After a blessing by the Bishop of Southampton and the National Anthem, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were on their way, first to a reception in the Town Hall and then on to plant a comemorative mulberry tree at Broadlands. The service was over in no time. It was time for the somewhat mysterious men in dark suits, to whom it seemed best not to try cracking a joke, to move on to their next venue.