A Christmas Invitation to Buckingham Palace for Winchester Award-Winner

The manager of Winchester's top tourist information centre took a trip to Buckingham Palace this week at the invitation of Her Majesty the Queen.  A pre-Christmas reception for 'achievers' from many professions and walks of life was held on Tuesday 19 December at the Palace, and Winchester City Council's Alison Woods was on the guest list in recognition of her contribution to local life.


Winchester Tourist Information Centre was declared the gold award winner at this year's Enjoy England 'Awards for Excellence', the finals of which were staged at Madame Tussaud's in London in April.  Alison and five of her colleagues attended the event and had photos taken with the waxworks - including Queen Elizabeth and other royals.  She said, "After having such fun with the waxworks, I was completely stunned to receive an invitation to meet the real Queen and kept it very quiet for several           weeks in case it was a practical joke.  But it was for real, and I had an unforgettable and probably once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I feel truly honoured to have been to the Palace."


The 'achievers' at the reception were invited from all parts of the UK and represented a wide range of sectors including sport, voluntary work, armed forces, health and the arts.   Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh entered the reception via the Music Room and mingled with over 500 guests, along with the Dukes of York, Kent and Gloucester.   Special guests included 'Woman of the Year' Camilla Batmanghelidji, the founder of 'Kids Company'; Joe Calzaghe, World Super Middleweight boxing champion; the British three day Eventing team - including the Queen's grand-daughter Zara Phillips; Gareth Davies the lead consultant for the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services; artist Antony Gormley, and writer Emily Gravett.


Bollinger champagne and exquisite canapés were served throughout the evening and members of the household were also on hand to talk to guests and introduce them to the royals.  Adding to the festive atmosphere were the Blackbird Leys Estate Choir, the residents of an Oxford estate who transformed themselves into a classical choir (featured on television's The Singing Estate), who sang carols and an extract of Handel's Halleluiah chorus.  In the Music Room and Grand Entrance there were also Christmas trees with decorations handmade by students from Chelsea College of Art and Design. The milliner Philip Treacy had designed a special star to go on top of the tree in the Music Room.

Alison was accompanied to the Palace by Eloise Appleby, the city council's Head of Cultural Services, who commented, "Tourism is a major contributor to the life and economy of the Winchester district, and one of the biggest industry sectors in the UK so I am pleased to see tourism 'achievers' on the Queen's list.  This has been a great year for Winchester Tourism: I hope that the prestige of our gold award in April and this royal invitation will reinforce the message that England's ancient capital is a great destination to visit.  We may not be serving Bollinger, but we do serve up a great visitor experience and some long-lasting memories."