Obituary: Sir Malcolm Ross, Scots Guardsman and overseer of royal events.
Muhammad muktar hudu
Nov. 08, 2019
Scots Guardsman and overseer of royal events.
LIEUTENANT-Colonel Sir Malcolm Ross, who has died aged 76, was a diplomatic servant of the Crown for 30 years. He oversaw with scrupulous efficiency two royal funerals, several weddings and many state occasions. He had a keen eye for correct procedure and understood the finer points of tradition, ritual and pageantry.
Sir Malcolm retained close connections with Kirkcudbrightshire where he was born. He served as Lord-Lieutenant for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright (2006-2018) taking particular pride in upholding the ancient title of Stewartry - an alternative name for the county. He also served as a brigadier in the Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland (the Royal Company of Archers).
Walter Hugh Ross was brought up at Netherhall, Bridge of Dee, Kirkcudbrightshire, where he lived all his life when not in the army or on royal duties. He attended Eton and then Sandhurst where he won the sword of honour and was commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1964.
He remained with the Scots Guards until 1987 serving in Aden and as officer-in-command at the Guards Depot at Pirbright. He had six tours of duty in Northern Ireland and was mentioned in dispatches. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1982.
In 1987 he joined the royal household initially as an auditor to the Household and a Comptroller overseeing the working methods throughout the Palace. Other duties included secretary to the Orders of Knighthood when, in 1991, he was appointed comptroller of the lord chamberlain’s office. In that post Sir Malcolm assumed control of all the ceremonial and official events which involved the Queen. These varied from the state opening of Parliament, state visits, investitures and Buckingham Palace Garden Parties.
One of his most public duties was to carry the state crown which the Queen wears at a state opening. He was often one of the Queen’s mounted attendants at the annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony.
The funeral of Princess Diana posed numerous problems – not least the short time involved for preparation. The Queen was in Balmoral and reluctant to come to London. As public grief grew Ross, at Buckingham Palace, tried to persuade the Queen to return to London. “We telephoned Balmoral every hour, on the hour” he related in an interview for a biography of Prince Charles. “She eventually returned. On this occasion she had not read the tea leaves properly.”
Then there was the tricky problem whether Princes William and Harry would walk behind their mother’s coffin. Prince Philip said to his grandsons: “I’ll walk if you walk.” Sir Malcolm later recalled, “Their involvement was something which we didn’t address until the last possible moment.”
Sir Malcolm had ordered the doors of Westminster Abbey to remain open during the service to provide fresh air. But it meant the applause after Earl Spencer’s eulogy (which Sir Malcolm was “horrified” to hear) was heard throughout the Abbey. Another hurdle Sir Malcolm had to diplomatically overcome was the choice, by the Dean of Westminster, of Elton John as the soloist: “So when Plácido Domingo called offering his services, I had to tell him, ‘Sorry, the slot has been booked.’”
Sir Malcolm is honourably mentioned in Alastair Campbell’s Diaries when they closely worked together co-ordinating the delicate arrangements. Campbell wrote, “Ross emphasised the role of her charities and that he wanted a proper ethnic mix.”
The many other events and ceremonies included the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 and the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla in 2005. Sir Malcolm’s best laid plans for the latter were thrown into confusion when Charles had to attend the funeral of the Pope. “It meant a telephone marathon to warn the 850 guests that it was going to be on another day. We lost 80 and gained 50.”
Sir Malcolm retired from working at Buckingham Palace in 2006 and was appointed master of the Prince of Wales’s household. It was a considerable undertaking as he had to administer the social and private affairs at Clarence House and Charles’s other two homes. He also had to cope with the aftermath of a former valet, Michael Fawcett, who had to resign after being accused of selling off the prince’s unwanted gifts for personal gain.
Sir Malcolm admitted he found that working for the prince was a “shock to the system”. His two years with the prince were challenging and Sir Malcolm required all his tact to calm down several stressful situations.
Sir Malcolm was appointed a commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1994, knight commander in 1999, and knight grand cross in 2005, all three honours being in the personal gift of the Queen.
He was the Prior of Scotland and the Duke of Gloucester attended his initiation in 2009 in Edinburgh. From 2016-2019 he served as Lord Prior, of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem which administers the St John Ambulance.
Sir Malcolm married Susan Gow in 1969. She and their son and two daughters survive him.
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