When I received an email saying I’d been nominated for an MBE, I thought it was a hoax!

Since then, I’ve fought off some of the “imposter syndrome” and kind of settled into the idea. I am trying to use what my friend and colleague Joyce Nga Yu Lee calls “the MBE key” to unlock positive change. 

Julia Skelton MBE

I’ve been asked by lots of people about the investiture and what it was like to receive an MBE from King Charles III. I struggle to get beyond saying “it was really nice”. I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way – from the moment we arrived at Buckingham Palace to the moment we left everyone – from the security guards and event staff to the ceremony officials and His Majesty himself – was welcoming, friendly and, well, REALLY nice!

Since the announcement of last year’s New Year Honours I’ve been at pains to stress that this award is very much a Mind the Gap affair. I truly feel it should be seen as recognising the company’s brilliant and important work, and not singling out any one individual.

That being said, I confess that the day of the investiture was very much all about me! Much as I love the drama of theatre and theatre-making, I’m not really one for pomp and ceremony. Reflecting back, I can’t think of another experience that was quite so single-focused on me … but it was genuinely special to spend a couple of hours spammed up with my proud family, perching on antique chairs you’re not normally allowed to sit on, and displaying the depth and breadth of my ignorance about the British monarchy with patient palace guides.

It was also humbling to spend time chatting to lovely folks from all over the UK who were being recognised for their work including children’s charities, disability advocacy, improving local services and others who’ve worked to bring about positive change through the arts.

So, looking ahead, what doors will I be trying to unlock with my MBE key?

Firstly, as Bradford District anticipates UK City of Culture 2025, I look forward to working with the BD25 leadership and wider team to ensure learning disabled and autistic artists can play a central role in the celebrations.

Equally, in these challenging economic times I hope that this recognition for the company’s vital, national strategic role will help ensure that funders – public and private – will continue to invest in our work now, and into the future.

Thirdly, I’ll be looking for opportunities to engage with local and national political decision-makers to ensure that the current challenges don’t derail or diminish the hard-won progress for learning disabled and autistic people’s rights and freedoms, a cause that Mind the Gap’s work has contributed to over the past 35 years.

Finally, to answer the other main question I’m asked: the Buckingham Palace toilets are a kind of wooden throne affair (appropriately enough), and the paper is a well-known high street brand, NOT distinguished with any royal mark. The only slightly disappointing part of an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable day.

Julia Skelton MBE

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