As we got out of the car, a group of olive-throated parakeets wheeled past with loud, squeaking cries, their wings beating fast. The noise of the Hope Road traffic faded.
We were at King’s House, the official residence of the Governor General of Jamaica, the Head of State. Our current “GG” is His Excellency the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen; the building is both an office, the venue for official Government functions and a residence, where he and Lady Allen live, on the top floor. King’s House Lands (then called Somerset Pen) was originally the home of the Anglican Lord Bishop of the Diocese of Jamaica. The house’s first occupant, Sir John Peter Grant, was Governor of Jamaica from 1866 to 1874. He moved from the old capital in Spanish Town in 1872, and purchased the property for six thousand pounds. He spent eight thousand pounds building a new King’s House. In 1907, King’s House was destroyed in a major earthquake, and rebuilt.
Why was I here on this beautiful morning, all hazy white clouds and birds and powder-blue sky? I was tagging along with Managing Director of Phase Three Productions Marcia Forbes and her staff – and an excited group of young people, slightly nervous and all dressed up in black and white. These were the graduates of two special (free) hectic one-week workshops on videography, hosted by Phase Three with expert presenters and facilitators in celebration of the firm’s thirtieth anniversary. They were to meet with Sir Patrick Allen and to have a special guided tour of King’s House.
As we approached the entrance on the south side of the building, groups of people were leaving. Sir Patrick had just sworn in eight female jurists (as I discovered afterwards) in the bright, high-ceilinged Ballroom. Congratulations to the lady judges! After waiting in the foyer for a few minutes, we made our way to the Consuls’ Tea Garden, which was renovated by the Consular Corps of Jamaica and officially opened in 2010. We stood on the walkway in the shade of a vine, and the sound of a cool waterfall greeted us.
The Governor General welcomed and congratulated the graduates. The program has been endorsed by his “I Believe Initiative” – launched in 2011 – a very effective and high profile service-oriented program for young people. Be all that you can be, is the message.
Sir Patrick made some interesting comments on the building where he lives and works. He said that he hoped the young people, with their collective photographic eye, would retain this “moment in time” in their memories. “I hope it will be etched in your minds,” he added. He noted that he and his wife and their staff “strive to maintain the authenticity and integrity” of the building. Although it still has the breath of colonial days, the Governor General wants King’s House to encompass and enshrine “the hopes and aspirations of a nation.” Because, he added, it is more than a historic building – it is not just a place, it is people.
We were then whisked off by our kind and gracious tour guide, Ambassador Evadne Coye, who is Special Advisor to the Governor General. In the Dining Room, we gazed at a huge painting of King George III (almost certainly a copy, Ambassador Coye noted – copies of paintings of royalty were made by lesser artists for every country under British rule). In the Drawing Room, I particularly loved the delicate, almost flowerlike chandeliers in the Drawing Room, beautifully enhanced by the soft golden drapes at the tall windows. The chandeliers were taken from the first King’s House in Spanish Town.
The room I enjoyed the most (despite the lack of curtains at the windows, for which Ambassador Coye apologized) was the Morning Room. It is comfortable, bright, and has a fine view of the back of the house, with the green mountains beyond. I could spend a day just relaxing there…writing, perhaps, and drinking tea. In one corner stands a bust – a gift from Chile, of their National Hero Bernardo O’Higgins (a name that has always fascinated me). In a large cupboard at the back is a splendid array of silver, from what was then the West Indies Regiment; and in two corner cupboards, some lovely china with the crest “ER” (Elizabeth Regina). A wonderful print of the Rio Cobre caught my eye.
In the large, sturdy porch outside, Ambassador Coye began to talk about duppies. For non-Jamaicans, that means ghosts. She told us several stories of duppy sightings by soldiers on guard in the quiet of the night, expressing regret that she had not yet seen one for herself. Some of our group looked skeptical, others faintly amused. I just love ghost stories, so I listened closely.
As we walked round the side of King’s House, a lively breeze brushed the avenue of palms where swifts wheeled and dived after insects. I had noticed in the porch that a number of their nests were glued to the corners of the walls. How lovely that these graceful birds shared this home with Sir Patrick and Lady Allen – and that previous generations of birds had, most likely, shared this space with previous governor generals and their wives and families.
The mantra of the I Believe Initiative, by the way, is: “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.” As Sir Patrick Allen told the Phase Three graduates this morning, “You are part of what is right with Jamaica.”
And it felt – yes, just right.
King’s House has a very good website: http://www.kingshouse.gov.jm/ They are also on Facebook and on Twitter @KingsHouse_GG
Learn more about the I Believe Initiative at http://www.ibelieveinitiative.org and you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter @ibija