TRIPODS were all set up, cameras and microphones on the ready for the word go. We were waiting for the proud father of the newly commissioned officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, to give us an interview.
After all, it was a big day for both father and son, seeing that 40 years ago, he himself had marched the slow and quick march on the same parade grounds; chest out, head up and proud to be leaving the campus of the prestigious military academy as a qualified officer, having been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II in 1980, on a similarly biting cold day.
It was truly nostalgic.
It is a lie to say that we were 100 per cent sure that we would get the interview because the father in question is the monarch of Malaysia, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah. And monarchs do not give interviews. In fact, you are not to speak until spoken to.
But as we were fidgeting with our various gadgets, came the voice, “So, what do you want to ask me?”
It was certainly a walk down memory lane for the king as this time he was accompanied by his wife, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah and their other children and family members to attend the graduation of the Regent of Pahang, Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah.
“He has completed his course and it is time that he goes back to fulfil his duties as the Regent of Pahang, and more importantly be a responsible person to the country and the people,” said the proud father as his son stood beside him, looking every inch an officer and a gentleman that his beaming mother had proudly proclaimed earlier.
During the past week, we had been given the privilege to be in the company of our own king and queen and to witness the gradual relaxing of stiff protocol that had long put a distance between the royals and the common people.
There have, indeed, been regular news about the royals taking the commuters, stopping by the roadside to meet victims of accidents and we know of some members of the royal families who reach out to students and people facing hardship to help them.
They are no longer unapproachable.
There are, of course, lines to be drawn and respected. I have seen a stray hand on a royal shoulder being swiftly pushed away. You can be near but not that familiar.
The special visit of the royal couple was eagerly awaited by the Malaysian community in the United Kingdom.
For those who received the invitation for the dinner, there was the sudden frenzied search of suitable attire, preferably the national dress or smart suits, bearing in mind to avoid the royal yellow.
Some friends took to ordering online and others adapted Christmas-sy and glittery dresses matched with suitable sarungs.
There had been several royal visits before and I remember a stern briefing by a senior official — should the king turn and his gaze falls on you, he said, drop whatever you are doing and do the sembah.
I was rather worried as dinner with fork and spoon could be disastrous should we be the subject of the king’s gaze. So, most of us opted to look intently into our plates.
Thankfully, there weren’t any such strict and fast rules this time.
Indeed, the dinner with the diaspora with their Majesties left the guests oozing with praises and admiration.
The king’s speech, so to speak, was punctuated with light hearted jokes and His Majesty even laughed at his own mistakes in his off-the-cuff speech when he realised he wasn’t in Singapore but in London.
The queen, watching her husband awkwardly grappling with the table mic, decided to lend a helping hand by trying to detach the mic.
You could hear a pin drop at that moment until the king said, “She is always doing this.”
Indeed, these gestures helped much in contributing to the relaxed and cheerful atmosphere of the evening.
People were left with memories that they will remember for a long time; stories to tell their children and grandchildren about their meeting with their king and queen.
“Tuk Din,” said the king at the sight of Tuk Din, the owner of Tuk Din Flavours of Malaysia as he reminded him of ikan bakar and air asam.
“I like the ikan bakar,” he said. His late father too, it seems, used to order 40 packets of nasi lemak in banana leaves to eat as soon as his plane landed at Heathrow.
We are, indeed, seeing the other side of the royal families.
They too, indeed, want to be seen as people just like us, enjoying jokes, pulling pranks and getting involved in banter.
There was a lot of that in front on the grounds of the military academy; the queen teasing her son, cajoling him to give her a kiss and pinching his nose, while he shyly said, “tak nak!” (I don’t want to).
“Oh, we both cried,” admitted the proud mother seeing her first born marching among the best in the academy.
That day, we saw proud parents, just like other proud parents seeing their children at their graduation ceremony. And we can all relate to that.