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 Do Not Disturb

michael WHY I'VE NEVER BEEN KNIGHTED

BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

September 1, 2005 -- A few months ago I wrote about the visit of the Crown Princess of Tonga to Hong Kong. Your response to the tale of The Pumpkin Eater, the Ragman and the Hong Kong Hotel confirms what People magazine has long known: Royalty sells.

So here is another Royalty story, again 100 percent true. This one is about my own Queen, Elizabeth II, her husband, Prince Phillip, and a Royal visit to a hotel that I was very much involved with in the Commonwealth country of Fiji.

As I said a few months ago, a Royal visit to a hotel is a much-practiced affair. They don't just check in the way you or I do. There are red carpets, groveling managers, favorite foods and accommodation types to be worked out, bathroom supplies to be catered to, allergies to be accounted for, favorite flowers to be found and a host of other things to prepare.

Many days, if not weeks, of planning go into the visit, all the while knowing that the hotel has no hope of making a single penny. Why? Royalty usually travels on a special low government rate, as does their entourage of Ladies-In-Waiting, hairdressers, secretaries and the inevitable security personnel.

The hotel's General Manager (we will call him Andrew) and his number two (we will call him Tim) practiced the arrival of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip by Rolls-Royce until they had it down pat. The Rolls would pull up, their Majesties would alight, they would be greeted by Andrew and Tim and they would then mount the four steps to the lobby.

At that point, the local tribal chief, a 7-foot-tall giant of a man, would step forward. Dressed in nothing more than a grass skirt and tattoos, the Chief would bow and request their Majesties partake of some Kava juice, a slightly narcotic tonic drunk by the locals. While this ritual was occurring, the local school choir of equally near-naked children would burst into song and the drummers would beat their tribal message. A little girl would then present the Queen with a posy of local flowers.

At this stage, the Kava would have been consumed, the chief would have finished his bowing, and, while the children were still singing and the drums were still beating, Andrew would lead their Majesties perhaps 150 yards to their accommodations, a newly built burre (cottage). In the burre would be their Majesties change of clothes for the evening's formal dinner, HRH's favorite tea and jam and the daily red despatch box of government papers. Perhaps there would be time for a royal snooze before dinner, too.

Everything had been rehearsed to the split second and then rehearsed again. Then the eventful day arrived. Andrew and Tim stood on the steps awaiting the royal arrival. The background of children and huge parents, all naked except for their grass skirts and tattoos, stood nervously and expectantly by. The sound of the motorbike outriders signaled the Royal approach. Then the Rolls drew to a stop exactly on the spot.

Her Majesty alighted, wearing a light blue crinoline dress. His Royal Highness wore the full uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet, ribbons and all. Andrew bowed. Tim bowed. The four mounted the steps to the lobby, the children's choir broke into joyous song, the chief beamed a smile as never before, the traditional Kava bowl was offered, the flowers were presented and the Royal visages were smiling as if they'd never seen such a welcome.

All exactly according to plan. And, believe me, there is nothing more satisfying to a hotelier than seeing 150 beaming, semi-naked Fijians, stoned on Kava, being smiled at by my Queen and her husband.

Then it was time for the walk through the gardens to the new burre. Andrew indicated the way. About half way down the path, however, I heard a slight murmur. Psst, Psst, Psst. Suddenly, every sprinkler on the whole 170-acre estate went off! Water was cascading from everywhere.

Fijians large and small threw themselves on the sprinkler heads in an attempt to quell the deluge. The children, no longer in chorus, now shrieked with laughter. The drums definitely seemed to beat louder.

Her Majesty's crinoline dress was now plastered to her body, showing her underwear. Her hair was bedraggled and matted to her face. His Royal Highness looked like a bemedaled, bedraggled rat. His ribbons sent the colors of the rainbow down his uniform.

Disaster. Total disaster. There went my knighthood.

That night at dinner, neither Queen Elizabeth nor Prince Phillip mentioned what occurred. They have far too much class for that. But Her Majesty's smile that evening was more her grandmotherly, We-are-not-amused countenance than the beam of satisfaction she had displayed at her Fijian welcome.

The pictures are locked away as part of my retirement plan and the incident has never made the media until now. Andrew and Tim never received a thank-you note or a signed picture, as is the norm following a Royal visit.

And Paul McCartney or, perhaps Elton John, have my knighthood.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.