The Makaton Charity are delighted to congratulate our Patrons, Suzanne Miell-Ingram and Tracy Upton for their MBE Investiture at Windsor Castle in February. They even managed to teach Prince Charles some Makaton in the process! Suzanne shares their experience...
On New Years’ Day 2021 the two of us discovered that we’d been awarded MBEs in the Queen’s New Years’ Honours List for Services to Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. It was such a surprise and an overwhelmingly positive piece of news after a challenging year under Covid. We were thrilled at being acknowledged for our work over the years spreading awareness about the benefits of using Makaton through songs, stories and games.
It remained a total mystery how the award came about – but in the ensuing weeks our office manager could no longer contain the secret that she’d known about for such a long time. She finally spilled the beans that we’d been nominated by a family who we’d worked with at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The family had contacted Brenda (our office manager) to put them in touch with other Singing Hands families who in turn would contribute numerous supporting letters of recommendation for the application. How everyone kept this secret was baffling as the application and approval process took a full two years.
Obviously, as soon as we found out in January we went straight online and ordered our red outfits, new shoes and fascinators figuring we should stay ‘on brand’ in terms of colour for our ceremony.
The family who nominated us have an amazing little daughter with Down Syndrome and at the time we first met her she was being treated for a rare form of cancer. We visited her every week for months and months in her isolation room and sang and signed with her and her Mummy and Daddy. Despite being so poorly, she was such keen learner – she absorbed everything we taught her and became the most fantastic little signer. Her rendition of the Pirate song was something to behold. If any of you saw our Facebook Post in December 2021, you’ll have seen her signing the Singing Hands version of Boney M’s ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ on stage at her school talent show. Needless to say – she won!
Fast forward to Spring 2022 we finally get sent the date of our investiture – 1st February 2022 at Windsor Castle.
It was such an incredible day. We arrived at the castle in the most beautiful Spring sunshine after a super early start to get our hair & make up done. We were allowed one guest each. I took my daughter Ella and Tracy took her partner Alistair.
It was amazing inside the castle – there was lots of pomp and ceremony with numerous staff in various regimental uniforms and all the guests were in their finery. During the morning, we were led through various state rooms till we came to the main hall for the presentation. We were coached by one of the staff how to approach, address and curtsey to Prince Charles.
We were allowed to go up together (apparently this is very rare) and we were presented with our MBEs by Prince Charles. We curtseyed and signed good morning, he asked us various questions about what we do, how we met, and then we each taught him our favourite signs. As many of you know Tracy’s favourite sign is TERRAPIN and mine is SNAIL. Although these are not going to be terribly useful signs for him at least they will be memorable. We both then signed thank you at the end too. Who knows, maybe he will go and teach these signs to his grandchildren?
After the ceremony, we had official photographs in St George’s Hall (the Gallery which has been completely restored after fire back in 1992). After a bit of time to relax at home in the afternoon, we completed the day with a celebratory dinner in the evening with the rest of our family. It was the perfect end to a fantastic day.
On a final note – although this day was incredible for the two of us, we cannot take the whole credit. We wouldn’t have been at Windsor Castle to collect MBEs, there would be no Singing Hands and Tracy and I wouldn’t have even met had our children Miles and Ella not come into our lives. Because of them, Tracy and I met at a Special Needs Support group in 2000 and that’s how it all began. Their need as little babies and toddlers to learn Makaton through child-centred activities like songs and stories inspired us to set up Singing Hands. They continue to inspire everything we do 22 years later.
With huge thanks to all the Singing Hands families who supported this MBE nomination, for the support of the Makaton Charity over the years and for all the many other families who continue to support everything we do. Thank you!
Suzanne Miell-Ingram MBE
Click here to check out the Singing Hands website