Not many Canadians can say they were personally invited to the Buckingham Palace by the Royal Family.
Graham Esplen, a high school teacher from Cloverdale, is still awestruck from the experience.
“I keep looking back going, holy smokes, that really happened,” he told Peace Arch News last week.
The royals celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Royal Life Saving Society by inviting 125 citizens from the commonwealth with long-term lifeguarding experience.
Esplen was one of 20 lifeguards selected from Canada, seven of which were from B.C.
A history and literature teacher at Langley’s Brookswood Secondary, Esplen said he was overwhelmed by the opportunity “to walk up to the Buckingham Palace gates and show your passport and the Bobbies open the gate.”
“They held it in what they call their picture room, which is their art collection. I’m looking up at a wall with 10 Rembrandts on it. Or the portrait of Charles the First, which is in the social studies textbook at school. It’s quite incredible.”
Each guest was given an opportunity to talk to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
“She talked about how she did her bronze medallion when she was 13, which is neat because my kids are doing their bronze medallion right now at the Surrey pool. Each member of the family, there were six there, they all came around and took the time to chat with everyone,” he said.
The event took place Nov. 21, which is the day after Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s 69th wedding anniversary.
“(Queen Elizabeth) is amazing, it’s quite shocking how petite she is, but at 90-years-old, and Prince Philip is 95, they had all of us over to their house basically, on a (Monday) night. They were wonderful hosts. They were funny, Prince Philip is a very funny man and he talked about how he loves Vancouver.”
Esplen said he was given the opportunity through a selection process conducted by the Canadian Lifesaving Society. The organization put forward a list of names to Prince Michael of Kent, the president of the Royal Life Saving Society. Prince Michael selected the 125 guests.
Esplen has been working and volunteering as a lifeguard for the past 25 years. He started lifeguarding when he was in his early 20s, and spent years competing in lifeguarding competitions. After he started teaching high school, he continued to lifeguard in the summer months.
“It’s a great summer job.”
He eventually became an instructor, then an instructor trainer, and about eight years ago he was asked to sit on the national committee to revise the lifeguard training program. He said his background in curriculum building helped that process.
“We rebuilt it, retested it, piloted it and released the new program a number of years ago.”
Now, he’s the national leadership chairman of that committee.
He’s been working with the committee to rebuild the instructor programs.
“What should every lifesaving instructor across Canada be able to do? Coming to a consensus is quite a challenge when you’re a huge country like this. It’s been an amazing experience working with people across the country developing a program.”
Prince Michael approved a special anniversary edition of his Certificate of Merit. The award is made to individuals whose voluntary contribution and achievements have impacted the society and it’s work, or represented the society in an exemplary way.
“You never in a million years think that volunteering for something you really love and care about all of a sudden takes you to the Buckingham Palace.”