Since a young age I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the British Monarchy. To me it’s a story spun over twelve hundred years that makes Game of Thrones look like a tame children’s book. So when in May I got an e-mail telling me that the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were to hold a reception at Buckingham Palace for leading members of the UK Technology industry and I was being invited I was proud and absolutely delighted.
On the day of the event I traveled down to London, wearing my new suit, shirt, shoes and tie, feeling both nervous and excited at the same time.
When I got to Euston station I jumped in a black cab and told the driver “Buckingham Palace please”. He replied “you’re not going to see the Queen are you” which is exactly what I’d hope he’d ask and we spent the journey talking about what famous people he’s had in the back of his taxi.
On reaching the palace I noticed that mixed in with tourists from all over the world, who were enjoying the hot weather whilst looking at the palace, there were groups of people dressed up very smartly. These were my fellow invitees and it struck me that I was looking at two industries that were driving the British economy: tourism and technology.
The police opened the gates and the smartly dressed people formed a queue whilst the tourists looked on in wonder. I passed through the gates of Buckingham Palace and started speaking to my fellow attendees. There were people from all over the country working on all kinds of interesting and innovative products – showing just how diverse the technology sector really is.
While walking through the main courtyard I bumped into some of my neighbours from The Sharp Project. Sue Woodward who is the driving force behind The Sharp Project and more recently The Space Project. Sue has taken empty warehouses in Manchester’s inner city and turned them into thriving communities of creative companies. Mark Barlow was also present, who is the CEO of App Learn a company that makes talent management software which increases user adoption and employee engagement.
Once inside, myself and the other 350 attendees were shown up to the Picture Gallery, one of the 19 State Rooms in the palace. On the walls there were paintings by famous artists like Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyck and on tables there were displays of British technology such as a camera designed and built in the UK that is now flying on the International Space Station. As I wandered into the Music Room I saw a demonstration by Raspberry Pi, the £25 microcomputer created in Cambridge.
I then joined a queue and got talking to someone who ran a software business in the North East. As we swapped stories about how our businesses were going I turned my head and noticed that no more than ten yards in front of me stood the Queen and behind her Prince Philip. The queue I had unknowingly joined was going to lead to me being presented to the royal pair.
I was presented to the Queen and I greeted her, bowed and shook her hand. Like so many people before me I had no idea what to say to her but the Queen must have spent a lifetime meeting people like me so she was well prepared. She said “there’s just so many of you today” so I responded “yes and it’s so very hot”, she agreed. Small talk over, I moved on to shake the hand of another living legend, the Duke of Edinburgh.
After this royal meet and greet, networking became very easy as everybody wanted to relive their moment meeting royalty. I spoke to companies from all over the UK and found out the challenges around skills, transport and connectivity we face in Manchester are the same, if not worse, nationwide.
I met the Duke of Kent and he asked me about what Degree 53 did. He seemed particularly interested in the work we’ve done in the online gambling industry as I explained to him how we make it entertaining, secure and most importantly responsible.
By the end of the evening I was in a group of around thirty people all from Manchester. This reinforced my view that Manchester is a leading force when it comes to the UK digital technology industry. Long may that continue… and long live the Queen.