What did The Queen say to Norfolk teenager Charlie?
PUBLISHED: 01:31 25 June 2018
Copyright: Tony Ramirez/www.imagesofpolo.com
How an amazing year has taken a polo-mad teenager from England to Argentina and back – and put him in front of 10,000 spectators
It’s been an incredible 12 months for polo-mad Charlie Tighe. This time last year he was still sitting his A-levels. Now he finds himself scoring a goal in front of the Queen and 10,000 spectators, and then chatting with Her Majesty…
Little wonder he describes it as “almost literally dream stuff”.
His journey from exam hall to the hallowed turf of the Guards Polo Club took him last autumn from East Anglia to Argentina (the sport’s spiritual home) for winter training. The big prize dangled before his eyes was a place in 2018 with the Park Place polo squad in Henley-on-Thames… if he was up to the mark and outshone a fellow contender.
Not that there was long to get used to a life of brilliant facilities, great horses and the help of a groom near Buenos Aires. Back in Blighty for Christmas, he earned some cash with temporary work as a delivery driver, rising “at ridiculous times” to drop off chairs, tables and sofas. Sometimes it was miles from home; a 1am start, to get to Exeter and back in a day, leaps to mind.
Then: a return to Argentina for more training and practising with top polo players. Before he knew it, he was back at Park Place to see if he’d done enough to impress and be taken on for the season.
There was a couple of weeks or so of practice matches, riding and getting to know the horses. Then came the moment of truth.
“There was one game, at the very start of the season, that the patron didn’t want to play and I got picked. It was then I realised I was going to get it,” he says.
Official confirmation followed and left him feeling “over the moon. It’s changed my polo forever. The contacts you make, the people you’re playing with, the experiences… it’s amazing”.
So the 19-year-old found himself acting, essentially, as the stand-in/substitute for polo-playing ex-banker Andrey Borodin, who owns the grade II listed house once home to Frederick Prince of Wales. Mr Borodin is the Russian patron who funded the training in Argentina.
Charlie doesn’t play every game – probably shy of a dozen so far this season – but, when he does, it’s a step up or five on what he’d been used to.
Take just over a week ago, when the Park Place team reached the final of the Cartier Queen’s Cup at Guards Polo Club, against the backdrop of Windsor Great Park.
In polo terms the competition is A Big Thing – a high-level 22-goal game (a measure of the skill of the players) and a key event in the English social season to boot.
Guards Polo Club describes it as “One of the most important 22-goal polo tournaments in the world – attracting the world’s greatest players and their first-class string of ponies”. And royalty.
Charlie wasn’t expecting to play, but patron Mr Borodin took quite a hard fall in the second period of play. “Thankfully he’s all right: just a bit concussed and bruised,” reports Charlie. “They sent me on…”
According to dad Richard (Charlie’s parents had travelled down to watch, luckily) the young player was shaking so much that he could barely hold his stick. Is that true? “I was terrified! Absolutely terrified. When I saw him (his patron) fall off, I was frozen to the spot.”
Royalty. A crowd of thousands. The highest-level game he’d ever played in Europe. The top two exponents in the world on the field: Facundo Pieres and Hilario Ulloa – both maximum 10-goal handicap players. You can understand any wobbles.
Not that they were much of a drawback. Charlie played well – even scoring, though Park Place were pipped narrowly: 7-9. “To play at that level is unbelievable. And to get a goal on top of that… I can’t describe it. I think I managed to hold my end up!” he laughs.
His father says: “I guess it wasn’t just ‘even a goal’, but scoring a goal in the equivalent of the World Cup final from 60 yards out at full speed, being chased by the best in the world, to take Park Place into the lead with eight minutes left in the match...”
At the end, the players were presented with top-end Montblanc pens (a sister brand to Cartier).
“I gave the pen to the patron. This is his first year in the high-goal, the 22-goal, and he was looking forward to the final so much, only to be knocked off. I thought it was only right.”
And Charlie was presented to the Queen… “I couldn’t believe it. I walked up to her, bowed, shook her hand; she gave me the pen. She just chuckled. ‘I bet you were surprised!’ (To be drafted in.) I said I was indeed. It was quite a shock.”
How does one trump that day? “I don’t know if I can top that experience. That is almost literally dream stuff. This time last year it was just a dream… the Queen’s Cup… and one year later, here I am.”
We’re speaking on Wednesday morning as Charlie travels again to Guards Polo Club. This time he’s playing in “the UK’s leading 15-goal tournament”: the quarter-finals of the OUT-SOURCING Inc Royal Windsor Cup. “Last year I didn’t play anything above four goals!”
The match is starting in just two hours, but there are no signs of nerves. In fact, the former Young England player from the Norwich area is full of confidence, happy to be playing a team Park Place has already beaten.
(His optimism isn’t misplaced: his side triumphs 7-5.)
On Friday, Park Place beat Armis Snake Bite (great name) 8-6 in the semi-finals.
Mr Borodin had recovered, so Charlie stood by as a sub, and anticipated the same role for the final.
What thrills, though… and doubtless better than sitting those A-levels at Langley School in south Norfolk.
Charlie’s not looking much beyond the end of the season, when the arrangement with Park Place could finish. But as he rightly says, whatever happens, “It’s been one heck of a year.”