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How meeting the Queen inspired Dr Melanie Windridge to climb Everest

On 29 May 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest during a British expedition led by John Hunt. It was a stunning achievement that inspired people around the globe. Fifty-nine years later in 2012, I had the good fortune of being invited to join the organising committee for a series of 60th anniversary celebrations. I was a relatively new member of the Alpine Club and joined the committee as a representative of the Mount Everest Foundation. We were organising a big event hosted by the Royal Geographical Society, along with daytime lectures for schools. One particularly exciting event was a special evening lecture featuring some of the big names in mountaineering, during which Her Majesty the Queen had agreed to address the audience as the guest of honour. Afterwards, there would be a special reception for invited VIPs, to be attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. It would be a highly prestigious evening!

The fact that royalty would be attending the event meant that security needed to be significantly increased. As part of this, someone would be required to collect details from everyone planning to attend, which would be a big job. I was invited as part of the organising committee to take care of these security requirements and I was well aware of the honour that had been bestowed upon me to be involved.

I was also highly fortunate to sit on the organising committee with some incredible men and women. These included Rebecca Stephens, the first British woman to climb Everest; Henry Day, the retired Colonel in charge of the first British expedition to climb Annapurna; Sue Leyden, daughter of John Hunt; Colin Scott, Royal Airforce Wing Commander and leader of multiple expeditions to the Himalaya. We were also working with the Royal Geographical Society, right in the heart of the beautiful and intriguing centre of exploration. My fellow committee members were instrumental in teaching me more about the history of the Everest climb and other epic achievements that had gone before it.

When 29 May 2013 arrived – the day of the 60th anniversary – I sat and listened to several of the lectures and spoke to several fascinating people. One particular highlight was during the evening reception when I was formally introduced to Her Majesty the Queen. It was not a long meeting – a hello and a curtsey from me, a question from Her Majesty and she was moving on to meet other attendees. However, it was a true privilege to meet her, and an honour to be there, representing the Mount Everest Foundation and organising committee at such an inspiring event.

Melanie meeting Here Majesty the Queen at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the first ascent of Mount EverestI left the reception feeling inspired. I went on to study the history of climbing Mount Everest, researching the advances in science and technology that had made that first historical ascent possible. I also realised that, if I built on my own climbing experience, I had a chance of climbing Everest myself – and of following in those historical footsteps.

Rigorous training and preparations followed, and just five years later in May 2018, I found myself completing my own ascent of Mount Everest. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done. As part of the project, I also ran an outreach project for students to engage them with science and mountain exploration, hoping to inspire them and give them their own starting point to achieve their own, individual aspirations.

Looking back, I was incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to achieve something so incredible. I owe it all to Henry Day, the Mount Everest Foundation and the Queen!

Dr Melanie Windridge


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