There will be much talk this weekend of Coronations, Kings and Queens and how people will react to being in the presence of royalty. I’ve had some practice over the past ten days at not one but two special dinners.
A week last Thursday I had been invited to sing at the 150th Joint Anniversary Celebration dinner for Llanelli Rugby Club and Aberystwyth University. There must have been great social changes in Wales in 1872 as that year marked the foundation of both.
If my Welsh history lessons serve me well it was Henry VIII, son of the Welsh born Henry Tudor, who gave ascent to the Act of Union in 1536. Wales had already been annexed in 1284 by Edward 1, the English King featured in the Hollywood Blockbuster ‘Braveheart’. The Act of Union was supposed to ‘level up’ giving Welshmen the same political status as Englishmen. English Common Law was to be used in the courts whilst Wales’ landed classes also secured political representation in Parliament.
By 1872 Wales it seems was looking more to itself to find a way forward. The Universities, rugby and social clubs, Non-Conformist Churches and Miners institutes reflected a growing sense of national self-confidence and a desire to take more control of its destiny. (Before we go any further, yes the 150th Anniversary was 2022 but circumstances beyond everyone’s control meant we held the dinner as soon as we could!!)
Derek Quinnell, Sean Fitzpatrick and MC John-Paul Davies
I was at the dinner to sing a few songs, but the real guests of honour were indeed royalty…Rugby Royalty. Representing Wales, Derek Quinnell, or ‘DQ’ as I found out I should call him, one of Wales’ most respected players of all time. For New Zealand, Sean Fitzpatrick, ‘Fitzy’ considered to be one of the finest All Blacks of all time.
It is amazing how certain moments in time unite people. For many children of the 70’s DQ’s first cap for Wales is an iconic rugby and television moment. I can still remember Derek Quinnell barging past a bunch of policemen and stewards rushing to get onto the pitch to make his Welsh International Debut.
Mervyn Davies, ‘Merve the Swerve’ or simply ‘Swerve’ as Derek referred to him had been injured and with the game already in injury time he was determined to get his cap. In his mind he was worried that this might be his only chance. He had already played for the British Lions but not his country. What if next time he was injured or lost form? His passion to play for his country was the driving force, even if it was only for a few minutes, and we all cheered the television in our little family terraced house as he achieved his dream.
Keeping the Royal family theme its unusual for Royal families to marry commoners.
Chatting to DQ and Madora Quinnell
Marriages were often seen as a way for various Royal houses to cement international relationships, hopefully reducing the chances of war whilst keeping the wealth in the families. It was only when I was chatting to Madora Quinnell, DQ’s wife, that I realised she was Barry John’s sister. Barry was known as The King. It’s not surprising that she and DQ had produced 3 outstanding rugby playing princes Scott, Craig and Gavin.
Next to Sean Fitzpatrick. Now if I’m honest as clearly as I can remembering cheering at the TV when Derek Quinnell played I can equally remember jeering the screen when ‘Fitzy’ played for the All Blacks. He was mean, nasty, aggressive, a typical All Black and one of the finest players I’d ever seen. We loved to hate him when he played but since then, well, one of us has gone through a change because I find it hard not to love him and his commentary these days.
Fitzpatrick came from New Zealand Rugby Royalty. His father Brian was also an All Black and a number of his female relatives had been in positions of power in the New Zealand Government.
Both DQ and Fitzy had earned their right to be treated with regal like respect that night. They had sacrificed so much to achieve their dreams and they had given joy to millions all around the world. Along the way they had picked up stories and friendships that have stood the test of time.
DQ shared the story behind getting the call up for the legendary Barbarians match against the All Blacks in 1973. Swerve was supposed to play but he had gone down with flu. When DQ stood outside Swerve’s hotel bedroom he could hear him coughing. It was only when he entered that he saw the Swerve with a cigarette in his mouth saying the flu was going to kill him.
Fitzy told the story of being the usual All Black bad guys at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in South Africa. He said prior to getting to South Africa getting to the final The All Blacks had had a wonderfully warm reception. Once the final places were decided everything changed and the hostility from the host became almost tangible.
When nearly everyone in the All Blacks camp went down with food poisoning in the days before the final it seemed a strange coincidence. Fitzy said that it had possibly contributed to their poor performance in the final but even he conceded that although he was still devasted to lose the World Cup Final he was still in awe of that moment President Mandela walked down the tunnel wearing the ‘Springboks’ jersey. Something even bigger than Rugby had happened. He had been part of a moment in history which brought the whole of South Africa together for the first time since the end of apartheid.
The next event was another sporting dinner but this time full of Football Royalty. Thursday saw the Swansea Players Award dinner and along with Kev Johns and Sioned Dafydd I was helping to host the awards. The current crop of players are the princes of the Swansea.com Stadium, but they were joined by legends from the past few decades.
Sioned and I shared the stage with Lee Trundle and Leon Britton two players I had taken my sons to watch at the Vetch and then the Liberty. From a slightly earlier generation John Williams the flying postman, Kristian O’Leary former player and current member of the coaching staff. They were joined by Alan Curtis and Brian Flynn. All of these have their names written into local folklore having worked together to save the Swans from oblivion in 2003 when they kept us in the Football League with a final day win against Hull.
In the past many families became ‘royalty’ because they were good at fighting. If you could beat the opposition on the battlefield you could wear the crown. These days we choose royalty in a similar way but often it’s the football or rugby pitch not the battle fields from where our Kings, Queens and Princes emerge.