I’m more than my Cancer

We begin our series, I’m more than my Cancer, with an interesting story written by Andrew Renouf, and how he used to work at the Royal Palaces. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did in the office.

Thank you Andrew.


Back in 1975 I finished my A-levels at Dover Grammar School. In September that year I began a General Catering Course at Thanet Technical College in Broadstairs, Kent. This college has a link with Buckingham Palace and provides students to attend the Palace when large functions are taking place. The students do a lot of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ carrying jobs and can find themselves helping to serve the banquet or drinks, depending on the event.

One afternoon, in November 1975, I was given 40 minutes notice that I would be travelling to Buckingham Palace with the group of students to assist at a Diplomatic Reception. One of the regular students had not turned up for college that day, so I was the replacement. I had to dress in the appropriate uniform (livery) and my main job was to serve drinks in the Palace Ballroom, which was packed out with 1500 guests.

The following day, as I reflected on the experience, I did not believe that it would be repeated. However, in February 1976, after serving lunch to members of the public in the College restaurant, I was summoned to see the College Principal who asked if I would be interested in being a Footman at Buckingham Palace!

The selection process took almost two months to complete, and I began my service as a Royal Household Footman early in April 1976. On arrival I was supplied with all the different uniforms that would be required, and then on day 2 I travelled to Windsor Castle where the Queen was holding her Easter Court. I lived in the Castle for my first month in Royal service, and it was there I received the bulk of my ‘on-the-job’ training.

A large part of a footman’s day is spent carrying messages and being on hand to serve senior members of the Royal Household. Other duties include waiting at table (which could be anything from a small private meal for 2 or 3 members of the Royal Family, to State Banquets for 180 guests, large receptions, and garden parties); carriage duties (the footmen are the ones who stand/sit on the back of the carriage); and acting as a valet to gentleman guests and senior members of the Royal Household. On top of all that footmen are part of the Royal Entourage and are expected to travel to all the other Royal Residences in the UK, and to accompany the monarch on overseas tours, as and when required. During my time in Royal service this included working on the Royal Yacht, Britannia.

During my first few weeks I had to shadow another footman, also called Andrew, as I learned the routines and etiquette required in the Royal Household. I was also introduced to the Royal Dining room and learned how to wait at table for the Royal Family. I spent a lot of time pressing clothes and shining shoes as I learned how to be a valet. My first ‘gentleman’ was the Queen’s Equerry-in-waiting.

Knowing the routine at Windsor was one thing. When the court moved back to London at the end of the Easter period, we went straight into my first State Visit. I can’t remember who the main visitor was or which country he came from, but it was like a baptism of fire into the routines of Buckingham Palace. I had to find my way around very quickly.

Royal duties often took me between London and Windsor, but later that first summer I found myself travelling up to the highlands of Scotland, and to Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire. In my second year of service, I also visited the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh and Sandringham House in Norfolk.

In 1977 the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee, and I was pleased to receive the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal as a mark of this. In February that year the Queen was due to make a Jubilee tour of Australia and the South Pacific. When the details were first issued, I was to be on stand-by in case any of the footmen detailed to go on the tour were to drop out. This was to be a 7-week tour, so the chance of anyone dropping out was unlikely. However, about 10 days before departure I was informed that I would be going on the tour. Fortunately, I had just enough time to get all the required immunisations, passport, etc., before I found myself packed and on the way to Heathrow airport.

I had never been out of the UK before and had never flown anywhere. My first flight lasted 11 hours before we touched down in Los Angeles to refuel. After that refuelling stop, we had another long flight across the Pacific to American Samoa. When we left London, the temperature was very cold and the weather rather wintry. When the aircraft doors opened in Pago Pago we were immediately hit by the heat and humidity of the tropical island. It was quite a relief when we were able to board the Royal Yacht and enjoy the air conditioning on board. The relief was short-lived, however, because we had a 14-hour day to get through following 20 hours in the air. Having never been to sea before, it was not long before I started to feel the effects of the ocean and emptied by stomach into a nearby sink.

Our first official port of call was to Western Samoa, followed by Tonga, then Fiji. From Fiji we sailed on to New Zealand. This was an extended tour, and we visited several cities, sometimes flying between them while the Royal Yacht sailed on to meet us. From New Zealand we flew across to Australia, again having several cities to visit across the country. We also had a brief visit to Papua New Guinea, before returning to Australia for the final week. We flew home via Bombay, India, and Seeb, Oman. What an adventure for my first foreign trip!

The Silver Jubilee celebrations kept us very busy through the year and I was included in a trip on the Royal Train to Cheshire, and another trip on the Royal Yacht around Wales, finishing at Cardiff where the Queen attended a thanksgiving service at Llandaff Cathedral.

The main London celebrations for the Silver Jubilee included a huge fireworks display on the River Thames and a Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral. For the procession to the Cathedral the Gold State Coach was used for the first time since the Queen’s Coronation. The footman who accompanied the State Coach had to walk alongside it from Buckingham Palace to St Pauls. I was on one of the carriages towards the rear of the procession so was able to ride, rather than walk, but it was still a thrill to be part of such a special occasion.

During the time I spent in Royal Service I acted as valet to many different gentlemen, from all walks of life, particularly when we were away from London. Some were quite ordinary people, many were serving military officers, some were politicians, and I even had to look after diplomats and ambassadors, including the Russian Ambassador. When at Balmoral or Sandringham I looked after quite a few clergymen who had been invited to preach at the local church. These ranged for parish priests to bishops. Then there were the gentlemen who were closer to the Royal Family – Dukes, Earls and Princes – these included Lord Mountbatten, and the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester. For one weekend I had the privilege to act as the valet to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Not long after starting work at Buckingham Palace I met the young lady who would eventually become my wife, and we married during my time in Royal Service. She moved into our marital home in London, away from her family in Plymouth. Just prior to our wedding she visited Balmoral, along with her mother, staying at a bed and breakfast establishment just outside the estate. One evening during their visit, the Queen arranged to have a film show in the Ballroom. Members of staff not working were able to attend, and I was able to bring my fiancée and her mother into the castle for the event. They were thrilled to be able to see the Queen at close quarters while enjoying the film, and even found the Queen’s corgis quite amusing as the worked their way around the legs of the audience during the film. After we were married, I was able to take my wife as my guest to the Staff Christmas Ball, first at Windsor, and then at Buckingham Palace. During these events she was able to meet several members of the Royal Family, including the Queen.

Palace working hours can be quite long at times, and there are frequent requirements to be away from home, often for several weeks at a time. Eventually I made the decision to leave Royal Service, and after four years I tended my resignation. We then spent 5 months in the US, before returning to London, and then to Plymouth so my wife could be nearer her family.

When I left the Palace, I was asked if I would be available to help at large functions, which I was quite happy to do. Not long after we moved to Plymouth it was announced that Prince Charles was to marry Lady Diana Spencer. This would be an event not to be missed, and I made sure that the Palace knew I would be available. I was able to be at the Palace for four days and witnessed the whole spectacle of a Royal Wedding. I wanted to be part of the carriage procession to St Pauls Cathedral, but this was not possible due to a security clamp-down just prior to the wedding. However, I was on duty at the State Entrance of the Palace when the newly married couple arrived back from the service. An extra thrill was to find that one of the wedding photographs published in The Times the following day included me alongside the Bride and Groom and all the bridesmaids. This picture obviously takes pride of place in my collection of memorabilia!

Having moved to Plymouth I eventually entered employment in Devonport Dockyard and became a member of the computer support team. Several times each year I was able to attend the Palace and assist at State Visits. This would involve being at the Palace for approximately four days at a time and would involve duties which ranged from the welcome lunch, the State Banquet, possibly being on the different carriage processions, and going to St James’ Palace for the Diplomatic reception. During these visits back to the Palace, it was good to catch up with former colleagues. Students were still being used but they are always fully supervised due to the fact they did not know the layout of the Palace. Former staff, like me were always a bonus as we knew the jobs and routines required so could be left to work unsupervised. Also, if we were to meet a member of the Royal Family or senior member of the Royal Household, we knew how to show the correct etiquette, behaviour, and respect.

During all this time, whenever I was back at the Palace, I resumed the duties of a footman, until 1996 when President Nelson Mandela made his historic state visit to the United Kingdom. For this occasion, I was promoted to the position of Page which meant my duties, and my livery, were completely different. I was on duty at the State Entrance and was able to witness all the pomp and pageantry that goes into the official welcome of a visiting Head of State – something I had not previously seen as a footman.

In 1999 the wedding took place of Prince Edward and Sophie, when they became the Earl and Countess of Wessex. I did not know it at the time, but this was to be the last occasion that I would be called for Royal Service. The wedding took place at Windsor Castle, a venue that I had not visited for some years, and certainly not since the devastating fire in 1992. I arrived at Windsor Castle in good time and had a chance to wander the State Apartments and see the wonderful restoration that had taken place. At the wedding breakfast I served behind the buffet table in the Garter Throne room, which was where the Royal Family, along with the bride’s family enjoyed the reception.

My life in Plymouth continued without any more visits to London for Royal service. Some time in the mid-Noughties I received word that my father was having prostate issues, and due to all his brothers previously having similar issues, the message given to me, and my 4 brothers was to be checked and monitored. After a second visit to my GP I was put on a monitoring routine and had PSA tests every three months. Results were always between 4 and 5, only fluctuating slightly, until the summer of 2011 when, between two reading, the results increased suddenly to over 6, even though I did not have any of the physical symptoms often associated with prostate issues. My GP did a digital examination and referred me to the Chestnut unit at Derriford Hospital. After a biopsy I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was given a Gleason score of 6. The surgeon I met did another digital examination, and his response was “we can get rid of this!”. My initial reaction was to opt for surgery, but before making a final decision I did some homework and looked at the Prostate Cancer web site and took careful consideration of the information.

After weighing up the different options my initial decision to opt for the radical prostatectomy did not change, and my operation took place very early in January 2012. In the post operation meeting with the surgeon, he was confident that the cancer had been removed, and there was no sign that it had spread to lymph nodes or other organs, and that no further intervention was required. When I received the biopsy results following my operation, the Gleason score had already risen to 7.

With the support of the Chestnut Unit, the medical staff, and our local support group, I believe that the choice I made was the best for me. Twice a year since then I have continued to have PSA tests and the results have always been 0.01 or 0.02 which seems to prove that my decision was the right one.

I have never kept my diagnosis or treatment a secret and have always been ready to support others with their prostate journey. I have three friends who are all travelling the same path and we keep in close contact with each other. Recently one of my brothers has told me that he, too, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and has already begun his journey.

Having a support network to lean on before and after treatment is invaluable – even 12 years on, and the benefits of belonging to such a group can’t be quantified.

Andrew Renouf

More posts