When Corporal of Horse Frankie O’Leary rides through Windsor in full ceremonial kit a week on Saturday, he will not just be playing a key part in the royal wedding procession. He will be repaying a favour.
For the 31-year-old soldier credits Prince Harry with helping him on his own journey to the altar some years ago. ‘He rather kindly helped me get in with a young lady,’ explained Cpl O’Leary yesterday, referring to his days serving as radio operator, cook and tea-maker to the junior officer known in the Household Cavalry Regiment as ‘Mr Wales’.
The young O’Leary was walking back to barracks in Windsor with his then girlfriend, Niina, when a car slowed down and stopped.
Captain Tom Mountain, Colonel James Gaselee, Frankie O’Leary, Corporal Major Daniel Snoxell, Staff Sergeant Philip Bishop and Warrant Officer Class 1 Mark Quickfall at Hyde Park Barracks on May 9, in London, ahead of the Royal Wedding
The driver lowered the window. ‘See you later, Frankie,’ said Prince Harry affably. ‘See you later, Sir,’ replied O’Leary, as nonchalantly as he could.
Niina was bowled over. ‘I had to scrape her jaw off the floor,’ the soldier laughed, explaining that romance blossomed thereafter. Five years ago, they married.
It was just one of many stories circulating at London’s Hyde Park Barracks, where wedding preparations are now well under way.
In addition to the 800 guests at Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle on May 19, there will be a cast of thousands — including clergy, police and stewards. But for 62 of the 325 members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR), the ceremonial wing of the Household Cavalry, it is rather more personal. For they will be looking after one of their own.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence allowed the cameras to meet a cross-section of all the military personnel earmarked for the occasion, including streetliners from the Royal Navy and the RAF.
The starring role, however, will go to the Household Cavalry, with whom Prince Harry served from 2006 to 2009 before transferring to the Army Air Corps.
Yesterday, they talked of their pride in their old comrade, not just for his service in the regiment but for his subsequent role in creating the Invictus Games for wounded troops.
Soldiers being soldiers, there was the odd joke about falling standards, too. ‘He’s got a very untidy beard,’ joked Cpl O’ Leary, who served with the Prince in Afghanistan in 2007. ‘The Regimental Corporal Major would have him for that!’
All the men, however, voiced their admiration for the Prince’s choice of bride. As Cpl O’Leary put it: ‘He’s pulled a cracker —and he gets to take her home!’
The regiment will provide the Travelling Escort that accompanies the bride and groom on their journey after the service from St George’s Chapel, through the streets of Windsor, on to the Long Walk and up to the castle for the reception.
Warrant Officer 2nd class SCM Daniel Snoxell and Corporal of Horse Frankie O’Leary from the Household Cavalry who served in Afghanistan with Prince Harry in 2007
The regiment will also line the steps of St George’s Chapel and provide the State Trumpeters who will herald the arrival of both the Queen and the bride.
‘It is really important for us because he [the Prince] served with us and he still wears our uniform on a regular basis,’ said Lt Col James Gaselee, commanding officer of the HCMR, who will ride alongside the newlyweds in the procession.
When the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, his sister, Sarah-Jane Gaselee, was a bridesmaid at the invitation of the Prince (who had been taught to ride racehorses by her father).
Lt Col Gaselee’s abiding memory of that occasion is the huge box of chocolates he consumed while watching events on TV at a friend’s house.
This time, his sister will be watching on television while he takes centre stage — providing he does not come a cropper this weekend. A proficient horseman in his own right, Lt Col Gaselee plans to compete in the team showjumping at the Royal Windsor Horse Show on Saturday.
Might he not be tempting fate? ‘I might break an arm just riding through Hyde Park,’ he said. ‘That’s the thing with horses.’
There was a palpable buzz throughout the barracks yesterday. It will be a smaller operation than the 2011 wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton.
Then the Queen was in the procession back from Westminster Abbey with a Sovereign’s Escort, involving four divisions of 24 horses.
As Prince Harry is not in direct line to the Throne, this is a reduced affair. The Queen will make the short journey from the chapel to the reception by car, while the Prince and his bride have a ‘Captain’s Escort’ of 24 soldiers and two officers.
But there is still a great deal to be done. From the tailor’s shop to the saddlery to the forge, things are gathering pace. Every horse on parade will receive a new set of steel shoes with tungsten tips.
Every trooper will spend up to three hours the day before cleaning their ‘upstairs kit’ (their uniform), another three hours cleaning their ‘downstairs kit’ (the horse’s equipment) and the same again cleaning the horse (not forgetting white chalk to spruce up any horses with white markings). They will be up before dawn on the day to go over it all again.
It costs around £20,000 to dress the average trooper and his horse to the requisite standard, and up to £40,000 for an officer.
Both the mounted troops and the stair-lining party will also spend hours polishing their boots (always Kiwi polish, on top of the four pounds of molten beeswax which will have been worked in to the leather before any new pair is worn).
Lance Corporal of Horse Charlie Leslie, 29, explained yesterday that, in one sense, it is ‘just another day in the office’.
These are frontline combat troops who will also take part in the daily changing of the Guard at Horse Guards, and will all be on duty soon after the wedding at the Queen’s Birthday Parade.
But having taken part in umpteen state visits and state openings of Parliament, L/Cpl Leslie said that he had never seen anything like the crowds which turned out for the 2011 royal wedding.
What advice did he have for any new recruits? ‘Don’t fall off!’ he said, referring to the fate of a colleague who was thrown off at the last wedding after his horse tripped on a drain cover outside Westminster Abbey.
The poor man immediately jumped to his feet and stood to attention alongside those lining the street, a textbook response which has gone down in regimental folklore. ‘He was even sent a piece of wedding cake afterwards,’ added Leslie.
Though the gesture was much appreciated, it is safe to say that Prince Harry’s old comrades would rather go hungry.
MEMBERS OF THE HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY MAKE LAST-MINUTE PREPARATIONS FOR THEIR KEY ROLES IN MEGHAN AND HARRY’S ROYAL WEDDING
Soldiers from Prince Harry’s former regiment, the Household Cavalry, have spoken of their pride at playing a pivotal role in his wedding to Meghan Markle.
Based at Hyde Park Barracks, Knightsbridge, London, the Cavalry’s ceremonial regiment will have an important part in the wedding on May 19 in Windsor – both during and after the nuptials.
Famed for their plumed helmets and shining breastplates, 24 dismounted soldiers and two officers will line the staircase into St George’s Chapel at the castle ahead of the ceremony.
State trumpeters play in the Regimental Square during a photocall arranged to enable the media to see the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment preparations for the forthcoming Royal Wedding
Billed as the Monarch’s ‘trusted guardians’, members of the Household Cavalry are shown sitting on their horses above, ready for an inspection in the Regimental Square as part of the Royal Wedding preparations
At major occasions like Trooping the Colour and the state opening of Parliament the ceremonial soldiers are a familiar sight. A source of some concern, however, is how the horses will handle the anticipated large crowds at the Royal Wedding, as the flags and noise may upset them
Soldiers from the the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment ride their horses as they leave Hyde Park Barracks in London on May 9, during a photocall ahead of the Royal Wedding on May 19
A member of the Household Calvary grooms horses in the stable lines. Following the service on May 19, another soldiers and officers will ride on horseback – escorting the bride and groom as part of the carriage procession through Windsor
A horse has new shoes put on following the inspection. The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is based at Hyde Park Barracks in Central London, while the Household Cavalry Regiment resides at Combermere Barracks in Windsor
Following the service another 24 soldiers and two officers will ride on horseback – escorting the bride and groom as part of the carriage procession through the town.
Commanding officer of the Household Cavalry Regiment Lieutenant Colonel James Gaselee will command the travelling mounted escort and will be at the side of the carriage.
He said: ‘He has asked us to be involved – it is really important for us because he served with us as the Household Cavalry at Windsor, and he still wears our uniform on a regular basis.
‘It is a real sense of pride to be asked to be involved in what is going to be an amazing occasion and celebration.’
For more than 300 years, the soldiers of Household Cavalry have acted as the monarch’s trusted guardians, as well as being the public face of the British Army both at home and abroad
A member of Household Cavalry works on dress tunics of soldiers from the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment at London’s Hyde Park Barracks, during a photocall ahead of the Royal wedding
The Household Cavalry is one of the oldest regiments in the British Army, with roots dating back to 1660. Up until the beginning of the Second World War, it acted as a heavy cavalry unit. Today, it functions as an armoured reconnaissance regiment, as well as carrying out its ceremonial duties
Soldiers from Prince Harry’s former regiment, Household Cavalry, have spoken of their pride at playing a pivotal role in his wedding to Meghan Markle
Cutting material at the Hyde Park Barracks in the capital, a member of Household Cavalry works on dress tunics of soldiers from the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment
Lt Col Gaselee said for both Harry and Meghan and the country as a whole, it is important to get their part in the day right, adding: ‘We are demonstrating what Britain does best in many ways to the rest of the world.’
He admitted that a source of some worry is how the horses will handle the large crowds, the flags and noises, which may upset them, but he said they will do everything they can to get the horses to behave.
Lance Corporal of Horse Frankie O’Leary was Prince Harry’s driver on operations in Afghanistan in 2007, and will also ride on horseback as part of the escort.
Describing Harry, the 31-year-old from Windsor said he ‘loved a good joke’ and was quite comical, but that he was just a ‘British Army officer’.
‘Professional, done his job well, cared about his men a lot, succinct, to the point, a genuinely honest, kind man,’ he said.
Dress items to be used by soldiers from the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards of Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, pictured above, are located in the full dress store at the Hyde Park Barracks in London
Dress helmets worn by soldiers from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment are pictured in the dress store at the Hyde Park Barracks. Soldiers from the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will provide a mounted travelling escort for the wedding procession of Britain’s Prince Harry and his US fiancee Meghan Markle
Dress items to be worn by soldiers for this month’s wedding procession of Britain’s Prince Harry and his US fiancee Meghan Markle, when they marry at Windsor Castle on May 19
The Household Cavalry consists of two regiments, armoured reconnaissance and mounted ceremonial, with both units manned equally by soldiers from two regiments, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals
Harry joined the Blues and Royals in April 2006 and served with the Household Cavalry Regiment, based in Combermere Barracks in Windsor, undertaking two tours of Afghanistan and rising to the rank of captain
After being appointed the ceremonial head of the Royal Marines in December, Harry could choose to wear either a Royal Marines uniform or that of the Blues and Royals – something which is yet to be revealed.
Lt Col Gaselee said whichever one Harry chooses, ‘that organisation will feel an amazing sense of pride in it’, adding: ‘It won’t lessen the pride we feel if he chooses a different uniform because we know he served with us on operations, which is really important.’
Harry joined The Blues and Royals in April 2006 and served with the Household Cavalry Regiment, based in Combermere Barracks in Windsor, undertaking two tours of Afghanistan and rising to the rank of captain.
The Household Cavalry consists of two regiments, armoured reconnaissance and mounted ceremonial, with both units manned equally by soldiers from two regiments, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals.
At major occasions like Trooping the Colour and the state opening of Parliament the ceremonial soldiers are a familiar sight.
The troops take part in ceremonial events for a period but they are still fighting soldiers and many go on to the reconnaissance unit to serve on operations.
Asked what it means to play a part in his nuptials, he said: ‘I love big parades. This one is a little bit more special having known the man – and everyone loves a wedding.’
On the morning of the wedding the soldiers will spend hours cleaning their breast plates, helmets, swords and the dreaded thigh-high jack boots they wear, which can take hours to turn from a dull surface to patent-like leather.
They will also have to make sure all the tack on their horses is in pristine condition and ready to be seen by the thousands of spectators who will line the wedding route in Windsor.
A member of Household Calvary polishes a helmet in the cleaning room. The Household Cavalry has also earned a formidable reputation on the battlefield, having served in iconic conflicts from Waterloo to Afghanistan. At home, its duties have ranged from providing security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London to assisting flood victims
A helmet worn by soldiers from the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, pictured in the full dress store at the Hyde Park Barracks in London on May 9, 2018, during a photocall ahead of this month’s Royal Wedding
Corporal Major Daniel Snoxell, who was in Harry’s troop of 12 men after he passed out of Sandhurst and was a young commander of one of his vehicles, will form part of the staircase party.
Stating how it was an ‘amazing experience’ to work with Harry, describing him as a boss he said Harry was ‘very professional’ and ‘able to do the job’, and how knowing him ‘adds that extra layer of pride’.
‘It is a normal day, normal event for the Household Cavalry, these are the sorts of things we do all the time,’ he added.
Lovebirds: Harry and Meghan are due to marry on May 19 in Windsor in the UK
Asked how he will cope with not even being able to look around during the ceremony or at those arriving – including the bride – he said that is the brilliance of their training.
‘At being professional and at having that moment not to be weak, looking around, and to be strong and just stand there and to take that moment in,’ he said.
‘It is not our day, it is not our chance to make a scene, it is being part of the furniture and that reliability of the nation and the country to stand there.’
25 FACTS ABOUT THE HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY AHEAD OF ITS STARRING ROLE AT THE ROYAL WEDDING
- The Household Cavalry consists of two regiments, armoured reconnaissance and mounted ceremonial, with both units manned equally by soldiers from two regiments, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals
- It is one of the oldest regiments in the British Army and has taken part in every major campaign since 1660
- Based in Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment provides ceremonial troops for all state occasions including the opening of Parliament, state visits and the Queen’s Birthday Parade
- The Household Cavalry Regiment is based in Combermere Barracks in Windsor
- More than 325 officers and men make up the mounted regiment, which is where nearly all new Household Cavalry recruits learn to ride, and spend a year or so on ceremonial duties
- Harry joined The Blues and Royals in April 2006 and served with the Household Cavalry Regiment – undertaking two tours of Afghanistan and rising to the rank of Captain
- The Duke of Cambridge’s white horse, Wellesley, is kept at the Hyde Park Barracks
- During recent operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Household Cavalry was one of the most deployed regiments in the British Army
- Both the Blues and Royals and the Life Guards are inspected on 54 different points on their ceremonial uniforms in summer, and 44 in winter
- Cleaning and maintaining the uniforms and horses’ black kit can take up to 10 hours
- Two hundred tins of black polish: that’s what the regiment gets through each month
- Jackboots worn by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment take seven hours per boot to polish up to their patent shine, and 18 hours when new out of the box
- Soldiers will often use 100 denier tights when polishing ceremonial kit items, as well as other soft cloths
- Each jackboot requires two to three kilograms of beeswax to achieve the famous shine
- Brasso is used to clean and perfect metal parts of the ceremonial uniform, and a product called white sap is used on the white leather and components to keep them bright
- The process of cleaning and maintaining the kit and uniform elements has remained unchanged since the Life Guards were formed in 1660
- To groom the horse, including polishing their hooves with hoof oil or putting chalk on their white socks to make the fur brighter, it can take up to an hour and a half
- During the mounted wedding procession after the ceremony, the horses in the escort will be wearing ear defence to help with the loud noises from the crowds
- Each year, the horses which make up the mounted regiment get through 12,000 horseshoes, which are changed every four to six weeks due to riding on London’s roads
- The horses used by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment are Irish Draft Cross thoroughbred, all measure above 16 hands and are mostly black in colour
- There are around 235 cavalry black horses, 14 greys and four drum horses which make up the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment
- The horses will carry at least 44 kilograms of kit and ceremonial uniform, as well as the soldier riding them
- Two of the horses taking part in the wedding escort through Windsor are named Lashkar Gah and Musa Qala, after places in Afghanistan where the Household Cavalry were deployed during the conflict
- Famed for their plumed helmets and shining breastplates, 24 dismounted soldiers and two officers will line the staircase into St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle
- Following the wedding service another 24 soldiers and two officers will ride on horseback – escorting the bride and groom as part of the carriage procession through Windsor