‘We have so much to be proud of on this Island’
Over the past decade the Island has hosted some 50 Royal visits, all of them meticulously arranged, planned and overseen by the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, Major General Martin White.
In his role as Lord Lieutenant, Martin is Her Majesty The Queen’s representative on the Island, and is one of 98 Lord Lieutenants around the United Kingdom.
He served as Vice Lord Lieutenant from 1999 until his appointment in October 2006, and is now about to complete 10 years in his prestigious role.
To mark the milestone I spoke to him about the challenges, special moments and even humorous times he has enjoyed with members of the Royal Family.
He said: “We have so much to be proud of on this Island, and one of the ways of marking that is to invite members of the Royal Family to the Island to show them the variety of activities that go on. When I took office I felt I wanted to help set the agenda for Royal visits, and would invite specific members of the Royal Family to see elements of our community.”
That has led to those 50 visits, most importantly by The Queen as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. Martin recalled: “I think that has to be my highlight, having Her Majesty come down. It was a busy schedule, but I think it ran smoothly, and it was a magic day.
“One of the things I remember is that Island chef Robert Thompson presented a bag of Island goodies to The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. It included some elephant garlic from the Garlic Farm, and when the Duke was shown the elephant garlic, he said ‘I didn’t know we had any elephants of the Isle of Wight’!
“Then at the end of the visit, we went to Somerton Farm for the Royal party to catch a helicopter back home. The late David Biles had cut the grass and when we arrived he and his family were sitting watching proceedings, but as the helicopter came down it blew the grass absolutely everywhere. The Queen thought it was hugely funny!”
Perhaps Martin’s biggest challenge came last year when he had to ensure the smooth running of an event that saw no fewer than 13 Royals on the Island on the same day. He explained: “For the bi-centenary of the Royal Yacht Squadron, when we had all those members of different Royal Families together, but arriving and departing at different times. It was a challenge, but it worked. The party included the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal, Earl and Countess of Wessex, Prince Michael of Kent, and from abroad the King of Norway, the Prince Henrik of Denmark, Prince Albert of Monaco, the Aga Khan, the former King of Spain, King Juan Carlos and King Constantine of Greece. That was certainly my busiest day for Royal visits.”
Only a few weeks ago there was a weekend when he had to oversee visits from Prince Michael and the Princess Royal. He said: “Prince Michael started the Round the Island Race, and as he is particularly interested in things mechanical including trains, he visited the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, which coincided with their very popular 1940s weekend.
“The Princess Royal was here to name Red Jet 6 and visit the UKSA, and of course Prince Harry came here to compete in the Round the Island Race in a private capacity.
“More recently the Duke of Edinburgh came to Cowes Week, and also saw some Island community activities and projects, including the presentation of The Queen’s Award for Enterprise to Spinlock in Cowes. Earlier this year the Earl of Wessex came to speak to Duke of Edinburgh award winners, people going through the process, and organisers at Ryde Arena. There is another Royal visit scheduled for this autumn, so it has been a busy year, but it has worked particularly well.”
Martin is already busy planning his Royal requests for 2017, and he and his office composing letters that will go out within the next couple of months to the offices of the relevant members of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace. The role of Lord Lieutenant also entails attending major national Royal events representing the Island. Martin attended the Queen’s 90th birthday national thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by a reception at Guildhall. He also attends the annual Royal Garden party at Buckingham Palace, and other invitations have included the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
He said: “As Lord Lieutenant you become the continuity person on the Island. It is a tremendous privilege to represent this Island where I was born, grew up and went to school. I am the first person to greet a Royal, and the last one to say farewell. I think the Isle of Wight is a wonderful place for them to visit, not only do we have a great deal to be proud of but we retain a unique connection to Queen Victoria through Osborne House.”
Martin was born in Seaview, where he and his wife Fiona still live. He attended Ryde School, Nettlestone Primary School, and Sandown Grammar School before going to Welbeck College and then the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the Royal Army Service Corps in 1964, later the Royal Corps of Transport and he was head of the Royal Logistic Corps. His 38-year Army career also included commanding the logistic effort in the First Gulf War, 25 years ago this year.
Lord Lieutenant is an office you can hold until your 75th birthday, and when his predecessor Christopher Bland retired Martin was among those interviewed by ‘a senior man from the Ministry’ as a possible successor. He said: “Nothing happened for a few weeks until I was phoned and was told the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) was putting my name forward as the next Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, and I had 24 hours to think about it. I was completely flabbergasted, but had no hesitation. It is a great honour.”