More than 500 Freeman virtual ceremonies completed

Despite the pandemic, more than 500 virtual Freeman ceremonies have been completed. Murray Craig, Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court, has provided an insight into how this has been achieved.

The Chamberlain’s Court has firmly embraced the virtual world during the pandemic. Guildhall has been closed since 18 March 2020. My dining room table has become the control centre of operations, we have conducted 525 virtual ceremonies via Microsoft Teams and processed 710 applications via email and bank transfer. I have spoken at 8 virtual livery dinners or receptions. Ceremonies are always the icing on the cake of the court daily diary, virtual ceremonies are quite entertaining, the most interesting aspect is the variety of backgrounds – plenty of bookshelves, assorted tropical island paradises, the tops of people’s heads, the odd spaniel appearing. My top three:

  1. The wobbly man, it turned out he was on a boat in choppy seas
  2. The man in his car, he was in the car park at Wentworth Golf Club, he was off to play a round after his ceremony. Potentially even more exciting than being admitted to the freedom by me.
  3. A chap who lived in what appeared to be a stately home with tapestries, a marble fireplace and a painting of Sir Charles Peers, his ancestor who had been Lord Mayor in 1715

Recent ceremonies have included:

  • Bernard Haitink, the veteran Dutch conductor. Somewhat tactlessly I told him about another distinguished Freeman, Admiral Duncan who had sunk the Dutch fleet at the battle of Camperdown in 1788 but I redeemed myself with a picture of Queen Wilhelmina receiving an address of welcome in Guildhall and another picture of Dutch Eel boats that sailed up the Thames to the Pool of London as late as the 1930’s.
  • A cricketing double of “whispering death” aka Michael Holding who delivered his declaration in a very lyrical Jamaican lilt. Also receiving the freedom was Ebony Rainford-Brent who gave the calligrapher nightmares as her full name is Ebony-Jewel Cora-Lee Rosamond Camillia Rainford-Brent. My personal favourite regarding lengthy names was His Imperial and Royal Highness Crown Prince Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg!)
  • The ebullient American Ambassador, Woody Johnson IV, a great Anglophile who was thrilled to be receiving his freedom immediately prior to his return to the States at the end of his term of office.
  • Rock royalty Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones. Ronnie looked very smart, he had combed out his usual birds nest hair style, wore a smart jacket and did not look his 73 years. He was accompanied by his third wife, Sally, 30 years his junior and his cute 4 year-old twin daughters who obviously keep him youthful! We arranged for a singer and a band from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to cover two Rolling Stones hits, Ronnie was very impressed and said that if Mick ever retires he knows where to come!
  • Ed Balls, a man of many talents including his distinguished political career; his twinkle toed dancing on Strictly; winning Celebrity Best Home Cook; being a Professor of Economics at King’s College London and being the Chairman of Norwich City FC. I was able to talk about my connection with Strictly, I was interviewed when veteran judge Len Goodman appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? as one of his ancestors had been a Freeman of the City of London. I also unkindly reminded him of when my team, the Hatters of Luton, knocked Norwich out of the FA Cup in 2013 when we were languishing in the non-league and they were in the Premiership, the centre forward that day was some chap on loan from Spurs called Harry Kane, I wonder what happened to him? He was so ineffectual against the resolute Hatters defence that he was subbed at half time!

In the pipeline we look forward to granting freedom to:

Another twinkle toes in the form of Michael Flatley.

More tap dancing from the veteran Tommy Steele. The Lord Mayor attended his grandfather’s Lord Mayor’s Show when he was five and remembers vividly meeting Tommy who took part in the Show as he was playing Dick Whittington in panto at the London Palladium that Christmas!

Professor Sarah Gilbert, the virologist at Oxford University and a key figure behind the Astra Zeneca vaccine. She works at the Jenner Institute so I look forward to telling her that Edward Jenner received his freedom in 1805 for his work on inoculation against smallpox.

Murray Craig
Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court

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