From the Cavalry to Cambridge

The extraordinary depth of planning and intricate detail involved in parading the royals to the public may be lost on many Cambridge residents, but not on Geoff Wright.

When Wright and his family settled in Cambridge in 2007, it heralded a move to a lifestyle light years away from that he had known in England.

There, he had been a member of the Household Cavalry's Mounted Regiment, joining the Life Guards. He later trained to associate level as a farrier and steered the task of looking after the hundreds of horses attached to the royal household.

Wright enlisted in August 1976, and after 12 months spent learning the ropes at Windsor, was posted to Knightsbridge Barracks in London where he learned the finer points of royal drill and ceremonial occasion.

It was from there that he took part in his first major royal event - the state funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten who was assassinated in 1979.

Wright remembers the matelots, the perfect marching with rifles reversed, Mountbatten's horse "Octave" - a horse Wright had also ridden - being led behind the coffin with its owner's boots reversed in the stirrups.

"It was amazing. That showed me just how good the British were - and are - at real ceremony. I really believe no other country does it as well. The British are absolutely excellent at ceremony; it's one of the big attractions for people visiting the country."

Wright went on to take part in the wedding of Prince William's parents, Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, in 1981. He remembers riding a 17-hand horse called Eric, and witnessing personally for the first time Diana's iconic, shy smile.

In July 1986, he was similarly involved in Prince Andrew's wedding to Sarah Ferguson - a much less formal affair with a distinctly "party" feel to it.

Three years later, he did Prince Edward's wedding to Sophie . . . distinctive yet again, but this time a royal wedding with very much a family feel to it.

In between the very public occasions such as royal weddings and state funerals, there were the regular events such as the Trooping the Colour, State openings of Parliament, duties with the Horse Guards, and providing many of the travelling escorts to international presidents, prime ministers and other heads of state.

It was a world of precision, pomp and ceremony, for the most part, celebratory and splendid.

There were also dark times. The worst Wright experienced was the Hyde Park and Regent's Park IRA bombings on July 20, 1982, when a massive explosion ripped through the regular Changing of the Guard procession, killing four men and seven horses.

He knew some of the men well, and described the scene back at Kensington Barracks in the aftermath of the bombing as a "war zone".

The next day, the regiment was tasked with an investiture at Buckingham Palace, and Wright remembers his commanding officer - Andrew Parker Bowles, the now Duchess of Cornwall's first husband - lining up the men and telling them they would ride as normal, that they would not be cowed by the actions of the perpetrators of terror.

"The next day we prepared as normal, and they rode down the same route - there was a huge crater in the road and fire engines were hosing flesh and blood from the trees. I will never forget it."

Wright described Andrew Parker Bowles as "the finest commanding officer" he ever had.

As a member of the Life Guards, he had James Hewitt as a squadron leader, and the cavalryman-turned-singer, James Blunt, who spelled his name Blount at that time, was a member of the regiment.

There were also frequent visits to the barracks by members of the royal family when they wanted to ride.

Wright's experiences earned him enormous respect, but as much as he remembers telling his grandmother years before that he would one day join the royal cavalry, he also remembers knowing there would be an end point.

His father and grandfather had made their mark in the fishing industry, with his grandfather awarded the MBE for services to the fishing industry in the North Sea - now Wright felt he had made his.

"I had done my time, and after investigating things I had heard about New Zealand, we decided to settle here."

For all the memorabilia he has of those days, the best is held within.

"They were extraordinary years, filled with privilege.

"I went from a boy to man in 12 months - joining the Household Cavalry was the best thing I ever did."

Waikato Times