Colin Whitehead has had an amazing life.
He has served as a police officer, a Royal Marine Commando and a Coroner’s Officer. And safely in a drawer at his Ashington home he has a Bible signed and presented to him by King George VI.
During World War Two, Colin was living in Eastcote, London. He was quite the singer and performed in his local church choir. As it turned out, the junior branch of the King’s Choir of the Chapel Royal – known as the Children of the Chapel – was on the lookout for lads just like him.
The choir was usually made up of boys from the City of London School, but the headmaster had taken the decision to evacuate the children during the war, so other young voices were needed.
To this day Colin, who is now 85, doesn’t know who put his name forward, but at the grand old age of 12, he was called to St James Palace for an audition and was one of only a dozen boys accepted.
He soon became rather familiar with the Royal family, particularly King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. With their chapel destroyed in a German bombing raid in September 1940, the couple had to attend services at St James Palace and, as Colin said: “Whenever the King and Queen were present the choir would sing.”
His first Christmas as one of the Children of the Chapel was something a bit special. Colin said: “The first Christmas I was in the choir we went to Buckingham Palace and sang carols for the King’s household. Each boy was taken up to where the King was sitting.
“I was only 12.”
It was during this meeting that King George signed the Bible and presented it to young Colin, who recalled: “He was a lovely man. He really had to work hard about not stuttering but all-in-all he made us feel comfortable. We had strawberries and cream for tea!”
Buckingham Palace wasn’t the only iconic London venue at which the choir sang. Colin was a soloist during a Service of Remembrance at the Albert Hall. He said: “I was nervous until I was put on the spot, and after that I just sang. I could really sing in those days – nobody would want to listen now!”
He sang Bach’s Passions in St Paul’s Cathedral, which was “an amazing thing” and the choir were regulars at Westminster Abbey, where they would sit on chairs in the aisle and augment the beatific sound of the regular choir.
One performance embodied the saying ‘the show must go on’. The boys were waiting to go in when a bombing raid started, with one falling extremely close. Colin said: “There was a terrific explosion but we carried on because we were there so we just did it.”
With the end of the war came the big job of rebuilding, but it would be another two years before Colin’s family home was repaired.
He stayed with the choir until he was 15, and his final performance was one to remember – he was a soloist at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey on November 20 1947.
It’s little surprise Colin describes himself as “a great Royalist”!
Adult life soon called and the little matter of a career reared its head. Having grown up with the excitement of hobnobbing with Royalty in a city that was regularly bombed, he would have been forgiven for settling for something quiet. But no. At the age of 19, Colin became a Royal Marine Commando – a Green Beret – serving in Malaya, Cyprus and Malta, before being invalided out at the age of 22 “with a smashed up arm”.
He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Marines – they were a great bunch of lads.”
The bulk of his working life, though, was spent with the police, serving as a Constable in Three Bridges for a while but mainly in Horsham. From 1968-1986 he patrolled the streets, becoming a well-known and trusted face.
It was during his time with the Force that he met his wife, Hilary. The couple have two children - James, who lives in Canada, and Helen, who lives in Horsham, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Colin said: “I’ve had a lovely life and have been very well married. Everything has been something special. I can’t get out so much now but all-in-all Hilary is a great help.”
Retirement in 1986 should have bought a much-needed rest. Colin, though, applied to serve as a Coroner’s Officer – a position he had touched on during his time with the police.
He finally called it a day in 1993.
Yes, Colin Whitehead has had an amazing life and he has no intention of staying quiet as he moves through his 80s. “I don’t think I’ve lived life to the full yet,” he said: “I’ll have to see what I do next!”