The mighty Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again. And when they were up they were up, and when they were down they were down, and when they were only halfway up, they were neither up nor down!
His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, came over for dinner last week. Because it isn’t every day—or even every century, for that matter—that we have British Royalty over for dinner, I had the obvious questions like “What do we call him?” and (because we’re in Southern California and everything includes guacamole) “Does he eat Mexican food?”
Fortunately, the Royal Family employs a protocol staff to make sure that we all know how to address them properly, what not to serve them, and what time they will be done with us and leave the party. That’s how I knew to call the Duke of York ‘His Royal Highness (HRH)’ and to address him with ‘Your Royal Highness.’ (Our Events staff at UC San Diego reminded us not to use either his name or ‘Randy Andy’ at any time.)
We also learned the correct way to receive Royalty: our guests were to be already assembled and waiting when Prince Andrew, the Duke of York arrived. My husband, daughter and I were to greet him at the front door and usher him into the awaiting reception and introduce the other guests to him.
“We don’t have to curtsy, do we?” my daughter Nina asked quietly.
“No worries,” I whispered, “I don’t curtsy.”
“Good,” she said. “I’d look stupid trying to curtsy in jeans.”
Which is how we learned that women do not wear slacks to dinner with the Royal Family.
The table was set for 16, with His Royal Highness, The Duke of York, seated in the center just as his protocol team requested, with the host—my husband—opposite. I sat to HRH’s left and one of our VIP guests to his right. Also at the table were several Presidents of research-oriented universities in Northern Ireland, all here to talk about cybersecurity, data analytics and entrepreneurship.
So at 5:30 p.m., our eight guests convened outside on the patio for hors d’oeuvres and drinks, including fresh-squeezed lemonade made from lemons that we grew ourselves. Prince Andrew was on a tight schedule and was due to arrive promptly at 6, chat with guests for half an hour, then sit down for dinner at 6:30 p.m. He had to leave for the airport no later than 7:40 p.m., so dinner was scheduled to begin with a soup course of heirloom tomato bisque promptly at 6:30.
We stood outside in the courtyard, waiting.
The catering staff stood in a line in the entry hall holding trays of drinks, including flat bottled water, room temperature, with a slice of lime for The Duke of York.
And of course HRH was royally late.
Our guests ate all the hors d’oeuvres.
“I bet he changed his mind and just drove through In-N-Out Burger for dinner,” Nina said.
I was betting he stopped at the nearby Mexican food truck. He is not so recognizable that he couldn’t pull over for a few authentic fish tacos, SoCal’s version of fish ‘n chips.
Our guests were waiting. The events staff was nervous. Cell phones were ringing as staffers called other staffers in an effort to find out where he was. I thought that he accidentally got on a highway and didn’t get off before Tijuana, which is just 26 miles away. Nina reminded us that In-N-Out was only two exits away, on the same road to Tijuana.
Then about 20 minutes later, two San Diego Police cars silently heralded our guests’ arrival. Several black Range Rovers and Town Cars holding Prince Andrew and his entourage casually unloaded passengers and in just a few seconds the courtyard was full of people buzzing with introductions and handshakes.
We welcomed him, then my husband introduced Nina. Prince Andrew smiled charmingly at Nina and apologized. “Most young ladies are disappointed when I show up,” he said. “They hear a prince is coming, and they are usually hoping for Harry or William.”
At the dinner table, a lively conversation about entrepreneurship, business development and promoting new ventures ensued. We served our own version of fish ‘n chips: grilled Pacific sea bass and roasted potatoes and spring vegetables in a typical Southern California farm-to-table presentation (our Royal guest does not eat shell fish). There were jokes and laughter and lots of enthusiastic discussions about business development, including talk about HRH’s Pitch@Palace program in which hundreds of entrepreneurs pitch their business plans in the hopes of entrepreneurial support from the Palace. He has taken the venture around the world, successfully launching small businesses in several countries.
As 7:40 approached, HRH’s secretary signaled that it was time to leave. But apparently he was having such a good time that he ignored her signals and kept talking, although he looked at his watch every 10 minutes or so. It wasn’t until 8:20 that he decided to leave in order to catch his flight.
We walked him and the other guests from Ireland to the door, chatted some more, presented them with small gifts from UC San Diego, bade them goodbye, then rejoined our other guests to flatter ourselves with the fact that HRH ignored his built-in 7:40 p.m. escape hatch in order to spend more time with us.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported on the Duke of York’s dinner with us. I didn’t know the dinner qualified as news until my friends saw the article and started calling to ask all sorts of questions about Prince Andrew, who is the same age as we are and who we had watched grow up, start dating, get married and have children in a parallel yet totally different world to ours.
So what was dinner with The Duke of York like? It was fun! He was friendly and charming and funny and smart and confident and incredibly…normal. Other than the personal security team dining in the other room, and the personal secretary seated at the end of the dinner table, our dinner was much like any other dinner we have at the University House, except this time the guest of honor had a Royal title.