Not many people can say they’ve worked for the Queen at Windsor Castle. Even less can say they’ve stood next to her with a coconut in hand. Andrew Bailey can say he’s done both.
For two summers between 2001 and 2002, Bailey, who grew up in Greater Victoria, was hired to work at St. George’s — the Queen’s private chapel in the English country of Berkshire in the U.K., where he brushed shoulders with many heads of state, Fergie, Princess Eugenie, Margaret Thatcher, and most notably, the Queen.
As a servant, Bailey was responsible for cleaning the church, sweeping and dusting before it opened to tourists. During the day, he would stand by the door and answer tourists’ questions, and at night he would take part in church services and special events. Sometimes he would begin work as early as 6 a.m. and work until 10 p.m.
“It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had,” said Bailey, adding he lived in the lower ward, while the Queen lived in the upper ward of the castle. “I was just there enjoying the history of the place.”
While Bailey enjoyed the job, he admitted he lost his faith a few years prior after learning he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Growing up in a religious household, Bailey often looked up to his grandfather, who was an Anglican priest at Southwarke, a cathedral on the south bank of London.
Despite his loss of faith, Bailey still felt the need to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a priest. While he was attending university, a friend of his, who worked at St. George’s at the time, told him to apply for the position. Shortly after, Bailey, who was 22 at the time, was on a plane to London for the interview.
“I had this dream job. I really wanted to be like my granddad and I really wanted to be a priest. I was in this perfect position. But I could never tell him that I lost my faith in God,” Bailey said. “It was this dream situation, but there was this part of me where I couldn’t fulfill it even though I’d been working for it my whole life.”
However, just prior to the interview, his grandfather passed away.
Bailey’s relationship with his grandfather, failing to fall in his footsteps and his experience at Windsor Castle are the centre of his show, Me, the Queen, and a Coconut on at the Victoria Fringe Festival next week.
Me, the Queen, and a Coconut, which Bailey describes as fun, hilarious and poignant, also recounts the true story of his first encounter with the Queen. Bailey was at the Golden Jubilee, celebrating the Queen’s 50th year on the throne, and happened to be at the same street party as her.
The street party included games, one where participants knocked over milk bottles with a ball. Having played baseball when he grew up, Bailey won and was awarded a coconut.
Shortly after, he started talking to a woman about where he grew up, when suddenly the Queen showed up and started a conversation with the woman.
“I didn’t know what to do, the Queen was talking to the woman next to me, not me. I stood there awkwardly and holding his coconut looking like I didn’t know what do to. At that moment this Royal photographer came and snapped a picture,” said the now 37-year-old.
Bailey noted he had been a part of other meet and greets with the Queen, but she never spoke to him.
“We made eye contact one time, so I gave her a nod and she gave me a nod back,” he laughed.
The Victoria Fringe Festival, which is the second oldest fringe festival in Canada, includes 53 shows by locals Paper Street Theatre Co., David Elendune, Kathleen Greenfield and Ingrid Hansen, and Shawn O’Hara, among others, at various venues across Victoria.
This year, the festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a number of events, including a museum with artifacts and relics from the past three decades at the Intrepid Theatre offices.
“All the shows are independent theatre, it’s not mainstream at all. They’re not shows you’ll see at the Belfry,” said Katt Campbell, guest producer of the festival, noting there were roughly 200 companies who wanted to be a part of the festival.
“These are all independent artists and as such, all of the ticket prices goes right back to the artist . . .
There’s just a lot of really different ways of expressing ourselves and we really need to encourage independent artists to stretch their wings and explore these things.”
The first screening of Me, the Queen, and the Coconut is on Friday, Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $11.
The Victoria Fringe Festival runs from Aug. 22 to Sept. 4. For more information and a full schedule visit intrepidtheatre.com.