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Princess Anne's royal treatment for BNF on annual day

Author : David Strydom

21 November 2012

HRH Princess Anne was on hand to give out awards and meet and greet guests at the British Nutrition Foundation annual day. FP Editor David Strydom reports from the Royal College of Physicians on his (very brief) brush with royalty.

So there we were - the Princess Royal and I - having a jolly good chinwag about the state of the food industry and of nutrition in Mongolia. As you do.

It was the British Nutrition Foundation's annual day and Princess Anne, the BNF's patron, was in attendance. A few days before I'd been informed by Nick Baldwin, administration manager for the BNF, that I'd been selected, along with 40 others, for a personal meeting with HRH in the Dorchester Library. 

I was surprised; afterall, I'm hardly editor of Horse & Hound - and weren't there far more important personages than myself in attendance? Nonetheless, never look a gift horse in the mouth - an adage the Princess would no doubt appreciate.

As I waited for the annual BNF lecture at the Wolfson Theatre, I asked the professor from the University of Leeds in front of me if there'd be some guidance regarding the protocol for the day. ''Don't worry about that,'' he assured me, ''everything is well choroeographed.''

I asked him what the princess would talk about, if anything, during the meet-and-greets. ''She'll almost certainly engage you on food, seeing as though you're editor of a food magazine,'' he said. ''She also enjoys talking about horses. I once chatted to her for quite a while about jockeys.''

Of all the royals, Princess Anne has the reputation for being the most hard working, and by some estimates she completes more than 500 appointments a year - nearly two every day. She is associated with more than 200 organisations and charities in an official capacity, ranging from the Amateur Jockeys Association of Great Britain to the Wooden Spoon Society.

Princess Anne's arrival was announced and we all stood. She took a seat in the front row of the theatre, and we all sat. Witnessing royal protocol was new to me but it would be unfair to let it distract from the lecture.

Entitled 'Standing on the shoulders of giants: understanding calcium and vitamin D requirements', by Dr Ann Prentice OBE, director and head of nutrition and bone health research at MRC Human Nutrition Research, it focused on rickets and calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies. Dr Prentice pointed out that because of the lack of statistics in many nations, it's difficult to get a handle on how widespread the problem still is.

She noted that countries such as China, India and Mongolia were particularly vulnerable because of the levels of poverty. For instance, it was reported in 2007 that 32% of children under five years old in Mongolia had symptoms of rickets.

Dr Prentice's research focuses on nutrient requirements for bone health, encompassing the nutritional problems of affluent and developing societies, and she is involved in projects studying pregnant and lactating women, children, adolescents and older people in the UK, West Africa, Bangladesh, South Africa and China.

After the lecture, we filed through to the Dorchester Library where I reached for the nearest glass of champagne (the nerves were beginning to kick in) and engaged a professor from British Sugar in a conversation about the benefits of brown sugar. ''I've always believed - for some reason - that brown sugar is healthier than white,'' I told the professor. ''As a result, I don't touch the white stuff. Is it all a myth?''

''It's definitely a myth,'' the professor confirmed. ''If anything, white sugar is better because it's pure and refined.''

The room turned towards the podium where Princess Anne was preparing to hand out several awards to schools and schoolchildren who had excelled in one way or another. One was a schoolgirl from Wales who had come up with a recipe that is to be used by Marks & Spencer.

The awards thus dispensed, the 'milling' stage of the prizegiving began. Princess Anne was shepherded around the library by BNF director-general, Professor Judith Buttriss, while the people who were to personally meet her started to assemble in loose groups. I sought out my group, necked the rest of the glass of champagne I was clutching, and pondered on the protocol of meeting a royal.

Before the event, the aforementioned Nick Baldwin had sent an e-mail outlining the protocol for interaction with royalty. ''As a guide to protocol when meeting Her Royal Highness, whilst not obligatory, it is polite for ladies to curtsey and for men to bow (a nod of the head is all that is required) when introduced to The Princess Royal. On first addressing her you should call her “Your Royal Highness”, thereafter, “Ma’m” (to rhyme with Pam).''

And then she was on to our group. There was a knack to this, I thought: she sliced through it like a hot knife through butter but certainly wasn't giving the opinion it was being rushed. By the time she got round to me, I nodded (or bowed), and shook her gloved hand. Then I overflowed like a vigorously shaken can of Coca-Cola. ''Hello Your Royal Highness. Food Processing is a magazine that focuses on the machinery in the food sector.''

''That's a part of the process that's hidden from view,'' she said. ''The technology is very important but often overlooked.''

And that was that. Another royal appointment made, another spell of pressing the flesh, another prizegiving ceremony. If it's all a bit of a chore, she didn't let on. The BNF is no doubt very grateful to have such an effective patron.


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