10:30am Friday 18th November 2011
By Liam Sloan
IT seems secret agent Johnny English has been brushing up on his close protection skills.
Comedian Rowan Atkinson returned to his old Oxford college yesterday, as the Duchess of Cornwall came to open its new £5m auditorium.
And the star was less hapless than his on-screen creation as he greeted the royal in The Queen’s College library.
The Duchess, dressed in a royal blue and purple tartan suit, said she was “very pleased” to be invited to the college, which has a long association with monarchs’ consorts.
The Shulman Auditorium, named after Ukrainian businessman and donor Vadim Shulman, has been built on a former garden inside the College walls.
Mr Atkinson, a friend of Prince Charles, told the Oxford Mail: “When I was here this space was The Nun’s Garden, and all I remember about it is having a champagne breakfast. I think that was the only time I came here.”
He added: “I remember seeing the designs for this three years ago, and I came to see whether it bears any resemblance to the designs I saw.
“It is exactly as I thought it would be, and it looks terrific.”
Mr Atkinson, famous for playing royal courtier Edmund Blackadder, added: “To see the Duchess again is always a joy.
“She has an instinctively warm and engaging personality, which doesn’t always come over to people unless they encounter her.
“The Duchess has a hint of shyness but I think she has grown into her role extremely well and it’s very good to see her looking so relaxed.”
Students and staff performed a specially commissioned composition, The Two Trees, by a college former junior research fellow Phillip Cooke.
Third year music student Julia Stikovetsky, 22, who was introduced to the Duchess said: “I have never met royalty before, and it was really exciting getting to sing to someone of high esteem.”
The college’s Provost, Professor Paul Madden, said the new auditorium would be used by the wider Oxford community as well as college members. He said: “It gives the students a performance space so the college will be able to put on concerts, musical recitals, and project films there. It brings a new facility to the college, and it will be very useful for conferences which can be a valuable source of income.”
The last royal to visit the college was Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, then patron of the college, in 1981. If the Duchess ever becomes Queen, she too may be given the honorific title.
The Duchess’ left hand was still bearing the signs of a henna tattoo inked onto her during an official visit to Tanzania last week.
Earlier this week she revealed that despite endless scrubbing, the tattoo will not come off. 0She spent yesterday morning at a tea party for volunteers and fundraisers at the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, set to open at Churchill Hospital in Headington next year.
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