A forthcoming Royal Visit

St. Clement's Anglican Episcopal Church, Prague © Ricky Yates

This is a blog post that I started formulating almost two months ago. But for reasons that will be obvious as you read on further, it was only 48 hours ago that I was allowed to speak or write publicly about most of what follows.

The story starts on the morning of Monday 11th January 2010 when I received an email from the British Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Sian MacLeod, alerting me to ‘a visit next weekend by an official group from the UK who would very much like to visit your church’. Her colleague, the Second Secretary Alex Pykett would be in touch with me shortly to make arrangements and she expressed the hope that I would be able to help. I duly replied that I would help in whatever way I could.

A couple of days later, I had a phone call from the Second Secretary. Please could he and the ‘official group from the UK’, meet me at the Church on Saturday 16th January at 2 pm. When I enquired whether this was security related he agreed that it was and that he would be able to tell me more when we met.

Putting two and two together, I realised that what was mind must be some form of Royal Visit. What I did not yet know was who the visitors were to be. Was it to be Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh or HRH Prince Charles and HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall? To save the mouthfuls, over the next few days Sybille and I reduced this to either E & P or C & C!

On Saturday 16th January, I travelled into central Prague from the Chaplaincy flat, opened the Church and awaited the arrival of the official party. Just before 2 pm, a car drew up and parked nearby. The driver came across to me and introduced himself. He was an officer of the Czech Secret Service, sent by the Office of the Czech President to meet with the ‘official group from the UK’ to discuss the proposed visit of Prince Charles + Camilla. So it was to be C & C.

Soon afterwards, a minibus pulled up and out stepped the ‘official group from the UK’, led by Alex Pykett the Second Secretary. There were nine or ten people in total and I never got to know who all of them were. Those I did speak with were the Princes’ Private Secretary, his Personal Protection Officer and his Press Secretary, together with the Duchess’ Lady-in-Waiting. We discussed in detail what normally happens at our regular 11am service each Sunday and the special arrangements to be made to allow the Prince and the Duchess to attend and worship with us.

The real shock came when I asked about the date of the proposed visit. I had assumed such visits would be organised several months in advance and presumed we would be talking about September or October 2010. You can therefore imagine my surprise when the reply came that, whilst the exact date had not finally been agreed, it would either be Sunday 14th or Sunday 21st March.

The great emphasis throughout all of our discussions was that the proposed visit had to be kept very hush-hush. This was partly due to the exact dates and arrangements still being sorted out. But sadly, the overriding concern was that of security. By not announcing details of the proposed visit until a few weeks before it is planned to take place, any terrorist would have far less time to organise something. I therefore concluded that at least some of the members of the visiting group who I did not really speak with, were officers of MI5, sussing out all the security implications of such a Royal Visit.

Despite the need for secrecy, I did share the basic details with the Church Council when they met the following day. For depending which Sunday the visit was to take place, it could have had implications regarding other Church activities. But nothing could be made public to the wider congregation until I had the say-so from the British Embassy.

On Friday 5th February, I had a second meeting at Church with Alex Pykett and his diplomatic colleague John Davies. As well as clarifying various practical details regarding the Church service, it was confirmed to me that the date would be Sunday 21st March. I was also told that this was all part of a three country tour with the Prince and the Duchess visiting Poland and Hungary, before arriving in the Czech Republic. The royal couple would be arriving from Budapest the previous day.

I was also promised that towards the end of the following week, there would be an official announcement by the British Embassy about the visit. However, this would still be in very general terms and not including a detailed programme of events. In the meantime it was still very hush-hush – please don’t tell anyone.

It was therefore quite a surprise when the following morning, one of the Churchwardens phoned me saying, “I see the news of the visit is out”. He sent me a link to an article on the website of the Czech newspaper Dnes (Today) with news of the forthcoming royal visit. I soon found an English-language piece on the website of the Czech News Agency CTK. Both articles credited the source of their information as being ‘unnamed diplomatic sources’.  I was later informed that the source of the leak to was believed to have been in Hungary!

Finally, late on Thursday 11th February, the promised official announcement was posted on the British Embassy website and a similar press release was made by Clarence House in London. But again, mainly because of security concerns, there was still no detailed programme nor could I yet tell the regular members of the congregation that, as part of the impending royal visit, the Prince and the Duchess would be attending Sunday worship at St. Clements.

On Wednesday 3rd March at 8.30am, I had my third meeting at the Church, this time with the Director of Protocol of the Office of the Czech President, together with several senior officers of the Czech Police. Once more, Alex Pykett was there and helped finalise the necessary security arrangements.

However, the really good news last Wednesday was that later that day, there would be an announcement of the programme for the Royal Visit on the British Embassy website which would in turn give me the green light to tell all the members of the congregation and also be able to publish this blog post!

I have to say that I feel a certain sense of relief that I am finally free to talk openly about the forthcoming Royal Visit. It has occupied quite a bit of my time over these past two months. On quite a number of recent occasions I have had to bite my lip and refrain from saying something in order to maintain the requested secrecy. It hasn’t been easy.

I am also quite encouraged that attending Christian worship is seen as an important ingredient of the visit by the royal couple to the Czech Republic. This is in notable contrast to the visit of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to Prague in 2009. Instead of attending a Church service, President Obama made his major European speech about promoting a nuclear-free world, standing alongside Prague Castle, but on the morning of Palm Sunday!

St. Clement's Anglican Episcopal Church, Prague © Ricky Yates

10 comments to A forthcoming Royal Visit

  • Ricky how interesting. I have a soft spot for Charles despite his somewhat eccentric views. Hope this goes really well. perhaps you can spill the beans after the event, in the nicest possible way of course.

    Being a staunch Royalist I find it pleasing that the couple are taking the time out to engage in Sunday morning worship instead of other more political activities.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Wat Thammikaram Worawihan(????????????????????) Prachuap Khiri Khan =-.

  • Ricky

    Mike – Thanks for visiting my blog & commenting. It reminds me that I haven’t visited yours for quite sometime. You will notice that I have incorporated the slight correction to your comment that you requested.

    Rest assured that I shall ‘spill some more beans’ both before & after the event so watch this space! Like you, I am very pleased that the Sunday morning within the three & a half days of the royal visit, is being devoted purely to Christian worship.

  • Hi! You might or you might not remember me. I visited St. Clement’s twice during January/February while I was visiting Prague. I found St. Clement’s because of the “other” Karen’s blog! I am only sorry I did not find it sooner, because in the 3 months I was in Prague, I could and would have become a 3-month-regular! Let me say that St. Clements was so welcoming….and your sermons were very inspirational to me. You also have a great singing voice! (ha, ha)

    Your news is indeed exciting! I can only imagine how hard it was not to “spill the beans”! And I agree with Mike…it is nice to know that “C&C” chose to spend Sunday morning in worship! I wish I could be in attendance but alas, I am now back on Paros…a Greek island in the middle of nowhere, however I believe English Royalty has discovered it as well!

    Again, a big thank you to everyone who most kindly welcomed me at the morning worship service and even cared enough that I knew what pages to use!

    Karin Shepherd

  • Ricky

    Karin – Of course I remember you and it was lovely to have you worshipping with us on the two occasions that you came. I’m very glad you found the congregation welcoming & thank you for your kind words about my preaching. Come & visit us again if you ever re-visit Prague.

  • Tim Taylor

    Ricky, I seem to remember that you met Prince Charles when you were at Lampeter; I wonder if he does.


  • Ricky

    Tim – Yes I did meet Prince Charles in November 1977 when I was Deputy President of the Students Union at Lampeter and he had just taken over from his father as Chancellor of the University of Wales. I did mention this to his Private Secretary at our meeting on 16th January to which the Private Secretary replied, “He still is Chancellor”. He and members of the official party were most impressed that I was actually wearing my Lampeter/University of Wales scarf that morning! After sitting in the wardrobe for years in Finmere, I’ve taken to wearing it again to keep out the extreme cold of the current Prague winter.

  • Kath

    Hi Ricky

    Keeping that secret must have been really hard! Hope it all goes well on the day. Of course, they’re the lucky ones, coming along to one of your services…

  • Ricky

    Hi Kath – Yes it was difficult not to talk about it beyond the immediate circle of the Church Council for nearly two months. As I wrote in the blog post, it was quite relief last Wednesday when I was finally able to go public with an email message around all the congregation. Now I have to produce a special order of service, answer umpteen queries from congregation members and write a sermon. Preaching with royalty present wasn’t on the curriculum when I was at Theological College more than twenty years ago!

  • This is a lovely honor both for our church and for you as a preacher! Congrats on your good citizenship (keeping mum). I think you made a good point about Barack Obama’s visit.
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..How I Travel: A BootsnAll Resource =-.

  • Ricky

    Karen – Thank you as always for your kind comment.

    Barack Obama’s speech on the morning of Palm Sunday 2009 did leave many Americans with split loyalties. Do I go & listen to my President or do I go to Church? It also disrupted the public transport system which prevented some people, who wanted to go to Church, from doing so.

    Whilst a short section of Klimentská will be closed to traffic on Sunday 21st March, I hope there won’t be any other impediments to people coming to Church that day.