Royal invitation to Buckingham Palace takes local Dickens fan by surprise

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Paul Catling was surprised to discover his involvement in a Dickens reading group has earned him an invitation to Buckingham Palace Feb. 14.

Paul Catling was surprised to discover his involvement in a Dickens reading group has earned him an invitation to Buckingham Palace Feb. 14.

When Paul Catling retired to Niagara-on-the-Lake from Toronto about 10 years ago, he left behind a hobby that he enjoyed-regular meetings of a Charles Dickens reading group.

But NOTL seemed like the kind of town that might embrace a Dickens fellowship, so he decided to see if he could drum up enough interest to get a group going here.

Ten years later, he and about 20 members read, discuss and occasionally enact the novels of Charles Dickens, meeting the second Tuesday of the month at the NOTL Public Library.

But when he picked up his mail last week and found a very official-looking envelope marked with the royal insignia, sent by Royal Mail from Buckingham Palace, he didn't make the connection.

He soon discovered that his passion for Dickens had led to an invitation to a reception at Buckingham Palace to be given by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the distinguished British author.

The invitation, issued by the Master of the Household "at her Majesty's command," includes directions regarding security, correspondence and dress.

"It calls for a lounge suit or day dress. I had no idea what that meant," said Catling.

So off he went to a local men's wear store, where he was told that calls for a black suit, which he purchased for the occasion.

His wife Margaret will accompany him to England, but isn't sure whether she will be allowed to attend the reception-the invitation doesn't specify that he can bring a guest.

"There must be lots of us in the same situation, wondering about that," said Catling, who has emailed "the Master of the Household" to ask about Margaret.

"I'd really like her to be there with me."

Some weeks ago, Catling said he received a request from somebody in London for his mailing address. He assumed it was for the records of the International Charles Dickens Fellowship head office, which is also in London.

"I was so surprised when I opened that envelope. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this. This is so incredible-I still can't believe it," he says.

"It just goes to show that you never know where your interests might lead you. If you are passionate about something, go ahead and do it."

Catling began reading Dickens when he worked in Toronto. He was passing the downtown library one day when he saw that there was an exhibition which included original playbills advertising Dickens, who was also an actor, and first editions of his books. There was also a sign-up sheet for anyone interested in the reading group, which he signed, and from then on he was hooked.

He will also be attending a Toronto lunch celebrating the author's birthday a few days before he leaves for England, and he expects to discover at that time who else he knows that will be attending.

The reception is described as being held to recognize the bicentenary of the birth of Dickens and "those involved in Dickensian heritage and scholarship as well as in the wider fields of literature and the theatre."

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