Queen Elizabeth II: Edinburgh florist describes honour of providing St Giles flower arrangement and being invited to Queen's funeral
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Hours after the Queen’s death was announced on Thursday, Thomas Maxwell received a phone call asking him to make a floral arrangement for Monday’s thanksgiving service at the ancient cathedral on the Royal Mile.
Mr Maxwell, who was honoured by the Queen earlier in the year with a MBE for services to floristry and charity, said his profession has taken him all across the UK and allowed him to meet several famous faces, including Her Majesty on three occasions.
After hearing the news of the Queen’s death, the florist said he felt “an overwhelming feeling of sadness” but also a sense of “gratitude for her life and the way she conducted her life.”
He added: “The Queen was a constant throughout my life, she was always there.”
When asked last week if he would arrange flowers for St Giles’ Cathedral, naturally he felt “very honoured.”
Mr Maxwell explained: “I had to think what can I order that would be appropriate and I have to have flowers that are open and looking well for the occasion.
“Sometimes I buy things that will take five or six days to open up – well of course I didn’t have that option, I just had to have flowers that were open and I was very fortunate that I had some lovely white lilies in stock anyway and they formed the basis of the arrangement.
“The flowers were green and white because attached to St Giles is Thistle Chapel, and the Knights of the Thistle have dark green velvet robes with white plumes.”
“It brought back that sense of occasion that the Queen brought to everything. When I was there, the Archers and the Heralds and all the religious representatives were there doing their rehearsal. The choir were singing during the rehearsal and it really was very beautiful. The choir sounded glorious.”
Mr Maxwell said the process of situating the flowers in the cathedral was a “great collaborative effort” between himself, the BBC and staff at St Giles.
He recalled: “The BBC of course have to be involved because they can’t have their sightlines obscured, so the flowers had to be placed in places where they looked handsome, respectful and appropriate for the great occasion so the cameras could get past them.”
Thomas said he received another unexpected phone call on Saturday morning as he made his way to St Giles’ Cathedral to arrange flowers.
When noticing that the incoming call was a private number, he assumed it was the police calling to verify his authorisation to enter the cathedral.
“But in fact it was the Cabinet Office saying that I had been invited to the state funeral in Westminster Abbey” he explained. “I never ever thought that I would be invited to Westminster Abbey.
“I worked in London and used to go to Westminster Abbey and do flowers there, so for me it is particularly poignant that I should be asked to go to the Queen’s state funeral in that wonderful glorious space.”
The 76-year-old, who opened Flowers by Maxwell in 1970 on Castle Street before moving to Montrose Terrace in 2012, began his career as a florist in 1960s London.
At the age of 18, he trained under the tutelage of the distinguished British educator, author and florist, Constance Spry – the lady not only responsible for arranging the Queen’s coronation flowers in 1953, but who also helped deign the recipe for Coronation chicken.
Since then, Mr Maxwell has produced ceremonial flower displays for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, numerous flower arrangements for the Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood, and designed floral exhibitions on occasions when the Queen visited the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Museum of Scotland.
As well as meeting the Queen twice in Scotland, he was invited to meet Her Majesty at the centenary of St Columbus Church of Scotland in London in 1984.
Despite having “a very fleeting chat” with the Queen, Mr Maxwell said that meeting the nation’s longest-serving monarch left a lasting impression.
“I think the thing that impressed me most about the Queen was the fact she had this amazing, wonderful, warm and generous smile.”
Remembering the character of the Queen, he recalled a 1996 phone call with a staff member from Buckingham Palace following the tragic shooting at Dunblane Primary School.
Mr Maxwell said: “When we had that terrible, terrible disaster in Dunblane I received a call from Buckingham Palace asking if I would make a posse of white flowers for the Queen to lay down in memory of the children.
“But a little while afterwards her lady in waiting telephoned back and said ‘the Queen has discussed this with me and thinks it would be more appropriate to have bright pastel colours because it’s for children’.
“Wasn’t that wonderful that she was so thoughtful?
“She wasn’t just going to pick up a bunch of flowers and put them down – it was a bunch of flowers that she had particularly thought of.
“She wanted to do what was most appropriate for the occasion.
“I think she was a remarkable person because of her sensitivity to every situation and had this great gift of always knowing the right thing to do.”