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From cadet engineer to Maritime MBE

Thursday 16 December in Community

After a two year wait, retired Director of the Isle of Man Ship Registry, Dick Welsh, finally received his MBE award at Windsor Castle. Recognitions such as this are often the centre of the public eye, yet many of us are always curious to know more. How do things like this work? What is it like to be in the presence of Royalty? And is the inside of Windsor Castle as cool as it looks? We caught up with Dick Welsh MBE to find out more.

How does it feel to have been awarded an MBE?

Surreal at first and then it begins to dawn on you just how incredible it is. You think of your family and how proud they will be. The honour itself is rarely awarded for a solo effort. I think it recognises the commitment of all the incredible people: team members; mentors; teachers; family and friends who have all been part of my story. Inside there is still the naughty little boy from Ballasalla and now this. It’s a lot to take in. Ask my mother!

Why were you nominated for this accolade?

I was awarded the MBE for ‘services to the maritime community on the Isle of Man and Wordwide’ – which is what was written on the citation. I still have no idea of the nomination process or who set this train in motion, but I want to thank them, whoever they are, for the recognition.

I had just retired as Director of the Isle of Man Ship Registry following a lifetime in the maritime field. I started as an engineer cadet at sixteen and finished by leading one of the world’s most highly respected and influential ship registers. I feel the award recognises my service and dedication to maritime and in putting the Isle of Man on the map, not just the Ship Registry but the Isle of Man as a maritime centre. I have also worked hard in promoting maritime as a career in the schools and careers fairs and in championing charities that are working for seafarers around the world

When did you receive the news and how long was it before it became public?

In November 2019 I received a call from His Excellency, Sir Richard Gozney, the Island’s Lieutenant Governor. He asked me if I was alone and if I was sitting down - as strange calls go, it doesn’t get more bizarre. He then told me that I had been nominated for an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours and asked if I would be prepared to accept the award. Silence. How to take it all in? It’s not often I am speechless, but this floored me. Of course I accepted, with all the composure I could muster. He told me I could tell Sue (my wife) but nobody else. It must remain a secret. He then told me of the process and advised that over the coming weeks this might feel like a prank and I will probably wonder if it really did happen. That night we went to the theatre and sat in the Gaiety in total shock.

The awards for the New Year Honours are published in the London Gazette on the last working day of December. All news releases are embargoed until midnight that day. For me that was midnight of 28th December 2019, after 7 weeks of waiting. We were skiing in the French Alps and stayed up to see it online. The next morning we woke our daughters Tia and Lili with the news - it took a while for the sleepy teenagers to process, but they were amazed. My parents heard it on Manx Radio’s seven o’clock news and then their world went mad. In the resort we received so many messages of congratulations it was incredible.

In a bizarre twist after all the waiting, I lost my phone on the slopes the previous day and the girls could not understand why I was so upset by this. I knew I needed it for the next day as I realised what was coming - they didn’t! In an act of incredible determination and a dose of luck, they hiked back up the slopes and found it for me!

How did you feel when you arrived at Windsor Castle?

Incredible. It was a long time coming but I think that made it all the more special. We were originally scheduled for an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 23 June 2020. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it was postponed until they restarted investitures in September 2021, albeit with a socially distanced format. If I’m honest, I felt very emotional and hoped I wouldn’t choke up at the wrong moment. The sense of occasion was heightened as I thought of my parents and how proud they must be.

What was it like to be in the presence of royalty?

Amazing. For the majority of us, this doesn’t happen but when it does, it is something to treasure forever. The Royal Family’s commitment to awarding ordinary people with extraordinary awards is so humbling. I have been at occasions where members of the Royal Family have delivered keynote addresses, but I have never been formally introduced. They have such a presence and work so hard for the people of this country one cannot help but be slightly in awe.

What was the process like?

A blur of emotion. Sadly, due to covid restrictions, only Sue could accompany me in the Castle but we wanted to share the experience as a family as much as we could. The whole day is delivered with military precision and all the pomp and ceremony you would expect from a royal occasion. From the moment you arrive at the castle you are taken care of and greeted with congratulations from everybody you meet on the way through.

Under Covid restrictions the ceremony is different to the normal investitures. The recipient and guest now stay together all the way as you pass through the various state rooms in a small cohort before you reach the Grand Reception Room for the actual ceremony. The journey is a wonderful guided tour of the castle and you are fully briefed on the procedure and each room as you go. Eventually it was my turn. Sue was taken by an aide to the other side of the room, and I was taken forward to meet the Princess Royal and receive my medal. I bowed, took three steps forward and the medal was hung on a clip on my lapel. We had a short conversation, she congratulated me and then a final bow before leaving to meet with Sue again and head for photographs in St George’s Hall.

Did you have the opportunity to speak to the Princess Royal?

With her Royal Navy background, Princess Anne has always maintained a keen interest in all things maritime. We spoke about my time with the Isle of Man Ship Registry and how well it was doing, and the importance of our collaborative working with the British Red Ensign Group and the improvements the UK Ship Register is making. It was clear from her dialogue with all the recipients that she took time to learn the background of each recipient and chat to them during the ceremony. She certainly made me feel very special.

If you bumped into 19 year-old Dick Welsh in the street today and wanted to tell him about your journey, what would you say about this?

“You’ll never believe where I’ve just been”.

What did you do to celebrate?

I’ve never really stopped. We celebrated in the ski resort as a family on our last night and my Mum and Dad came to the airport to welcome us home. Then onto a few drinks with the rugby lads to put my feet firmly back on the ground!

In July 2020, the Governor held a reception for me at Government House. Delayed again due to Covid, but that was a lovely gesture and a great way to celebrate with colleagues, friends and family. Sir Richard and Lady Gozney were the perfect hosts, and it was a very special evening.

On the day in Windsor, we enjoyed it as a family. Tia and Lili surprised us with champagne, and we had a wee drink to toast the occasion before we went to the Castle. They were there to greet us on our way out, and after a quick pub stop to warm up, we polished off the champagne before going to a lovely French restaurant in the evening to celebrate.

What have taken from this experience?

One of the great things about the investiture ceremony is meeting other recipients - ordinary people recognised in the same way.

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