Breaking the ice with royalty

Mention the phrase “ice bucket challenge” and many of us still feel a shiver from remembering just how shockingly cold the experience was. But for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the craze was a game changer.

The charity, which received more than £7m of donations in about three weeks last summer while the idea swept across the country, held an event at the British Medical Association’s HQ in central London last night to celebrate the funds raised and announce what it planned to do with the unexpected windfall.

Hosted by the singer and actor Michael Ball, the main draw was a visit from the Princess Royal, who is the charity’s royal patron. “No selfies,” Ball had warned before HRH arrived.

Guests were asked to gather in pre-appointed groups, under the supervision of a leader from the charity, which the princess would then move to in turn.

Although I found myself feeling inwardly depressed at the level of choreography necessary around a royal visit, it did mean that the princess met everyone in the room – no mean feat given there were about 100 people there.

Ball wasn’t the only famous face in the room: Jon Lee, who found fame as one of the bubbly band S Club, was also present, with his mum, as was the soprano Rhiannon Lambert, whose moment would come later.

Third Sector was in a small group consisting of a couple of other journos and the head of a think tank – who, as it turned out, was well versed in dealing with royalty having shown the Queen around a hospital shortly after the London bombings of 7 July 2005.

When the big moment came, the princess was greeted by our group leader, Emma, who began to introduce me first because I happened to be standing next to her. Reaching the end of her intro, Emma stopped and looked at me, presumably expecting me to carry on speaking.

But I suddenly found myself caught like a rabbit in the headlights, unsure as to whether I should talk or whether it would be considered rude to speak without being spoken to, so HRH and I ended up staring at each other for the longest of awkward moments, before I realised that she was waiting for me to speak and I blurted something out.

Some general chat about Third Sector later and she was on to the next person, but I was left with the impression she was knowledgeable about the charity and the ice bucket challenge, and for those brief moments she gave me her undivided attention.

Once the princess had made her way around the room, Sally Light, the charity’s chief executive, gave a speech about what the charity was doing with the cash and the difference it had made. For more on that, read this.

It was then over to Princess Anne to make a short speech, during which she revealed that she did not complete the ice bucket challenge – because she was never nominated.

“I am so tempted,” revealed Ball, after the princess had cut the celebratory cake and left.

Her departure prompted Ball to exclaim: “Now that the grown-ups have gone, we can really have some fun.”

That turned out to be three songs belted out in impressive fashion by Lambert – who had earlier been described to me by one attendee, maybe somewhat cruelly, as a poor man’s Katherine Jenkins.

People then began to drift away, after being handed goodie bags containing information about the charity’s work and some ice-related items, such as a packet of iced gems and an ice cube tray.

Nobody knows which charity will be the next to benefit from an unexpected windfall on the scale of the ice bucket challenge, but it would take a hard heart indeed to begrudge the MND Association its time in the spotlight.

Andy Ricketts is deputy editor of Third Sector