Jill Campbell receiving her MBE and talking to HRH Princess Anne at the British Emassy in Addis Ababa with husband Gary Campbell in attendance

In Two Minibusses

Living with Jill Campbell, MBE has always been like living with a lesser version of Saint Teresa of Calcutta; looming large and eclipsing all of my minor achievements in the shadow of her gentle and gracious personality. She feels, living with me is like living with Del Boy of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ fame. You see, I have an endless capacity to think and dream big yet somehow I fall flat on my face every time. Added to that, in the same manner as Del Boy I have a classic talent of twisting well known idioms beyond recognition. ‘Cutting my fingers off to spite my face’ type of thing and ‘putting my foot to the grinding wheel’.

I mention her membership of the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ since she rarely does. Modesty, yet another one of her numerous angelic qualities. And sure enough on the day of her investiture, her gathered admirers were gob-struck by yet another gaff from the idiot standing next to her.

Jill had been fretting beforehand about getting everyone up to the embassy on time and was worrying terribly about protocol. She had indeed received her university degree from Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne some thirty odd years before but on that day there was no requirement to curtsey, bow, stand-fast while being bedecked in medals nor any need to wait around and chat. Nevertheless, when the time came Jill was as cool as a cucumber and sailed through the moment effortlessly.

On the other hand, I had been in charge of logistics all morning and Mark Chapman had loaned us two minibuses to ferry our guests straight through the embassy security and quickly up to the residence. I enjoyed, as ever, managing things and making sure that Jill could concentrate on doing her thing. I was focussed and calm throughout. I put my tie on at the last minute and looked pretty reasonable – a little overweight perhaps but nevertheless very dapper for the day – well at least Trigger would have said so.

Jill’s second-hand Per Una dress – a fiver from the charity shop – stood up to the test and the pinning on of the MBE was successfully managed. The Princess then engaged in polite and meaningful conversation and had a long and friendly discussion about Jill’s background and the Addis Ababa Food Run in particular. She made a small joke when Jill explained that she first did a Food Run from Slough travelling up to London. Then HRH turned and enquired;

“and who is this?”

“Gary, my husband.”

“And how did you come to be here” she inquired; meaning it is an awful long way from Slough. And with nothing but logistics on my mind, I rightly told her

“In two minibuses!”.

Jill could not believe it and stared at me with a blank and bemused expression. Eventually she assisted, explaining;

“No she meant how did you come to be in Ethiopia?”

“You plonker” was saved for later!

And another of our guests posted the conversation on Facebook for good measure. My reputation remained fragile and in the balance for a few months after.

So in writing about my life in terms of seasons and heroes to behold, I cannot but relate a giant portion of it to her, whose personality and achievements overshadow my own in so many ways! I am happy for it to be that way because she….freely….agreed to marry me and has stuck by me through thick and thin.