My campaign work as an Ambassador for the National Autistic Society has kept me very busy this year, and I was honoured this week to be invited to their 50th birthday celebration reception at 10 Downing Street, hosted by Samantha Cameron.
I crowdsourced a dress via Twitter, with my friend Meg coming to the rescue. My mum helped me buy some fabulous footwear. Richard, my hairdresser, sorted out my unruly mop. I got ready at my in-laws’ house and got the bus to Westminster.
I had to queue up with all the other guests – including Jane Asher, arriving in a swish car – and then show my invitation card and passport (for ID purposes). We then trotted down the street to more security, putting our bags and jackets through airport-style scanners. We weren’t allowed photos inside, but entering Number 10 felt very much like walking into the lobby of a posh, businesslike hotel, crossed with a stately home. Only with more policemen with guns everywhere. There is a wooden set of small cubby holes, each containing a white card imprinted with a black number. You remove the card and slide in your (switched-off) mobile phone or PDA. No electronic devices allowed in the house, so this is a cloakroom for smartphones – or so it appeared on the night. Then came the actual cloakroom, for those who had jackets/coats and larger bags.
We were then directed up the stairs to the reception rooms. I paused before entering the Terracotta Room. Everyone was trying to decipher Tracey Emin’s neon art piece above the door, which says in a scrawl “More Passion”. It’s quite a dark hallway, so it’s very visible.
I was cheered to note on entering the room that there was another non-alcoholic option than water or teeth-stripping orange juice – I was offered elderflower and pomegranate fizz, garnished with mint. Very convivial. I got the same regular top-ups as the wine drinkers, too.
I had a lovely evening, with gorgeous canapes and wonderful company. I was one of the blessed few able to meet Ms Cameron for a few moments, and passed on my mother’s good wishes. Daughter points won. Her speech was brief, but welcome, recognising as it did the work that the NAS do and the issues people on the spectrum face. Mark Lever, the chief exec of the society, also talked briefly. I must confess, I was perched on a very posh sofa at this point, as my feet are not used to the glamorous heels I was sporting. There were quite a few of us hobbling out and into flats at the end of the night.
I enjoyed meeting trustees, NAS staff, journalists and fellow-campaigners, including some fabulous Young Ambassadors. The only disappointment was that the loos were very dull, no exciting toiletries or decor. Could have been a basic hotel or pub. Spruce up your facilities, Dave.
On the way out, we were allowed to have our photos taken outside the famous front door. It was all a bit quick and blurry, as people needed to get out and we couldn’t shut the door for long. Here I am, looking a bit gormless in my frock.