Gail Baird will never forget the day she clinched the most prestigious deal of her life.
She was the only woman in a room surrounded by officers of the Household Cavalry dressed in their full regalia, including swords.
It was the officers’ mess at the regiment’s Knightsbridge barracks.
She’d been invited for lunch and over the beef Wellington she had just a few minutes to convince the commanding officer why her company was exactly what he was looking for.
She remembers that the silver cutlery was blunt and she couldn’t eat her meat.
‘Perhaps I should have asked for one of those swords,’ she says. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that quickly though. I was too nervous.’
She managed to nail the deal and it has led to her small publishing house in Old Portsmouth winning one of the most sought-after contracts in the book world.
Last month Uniquely British: A Year in the Life of the Household Cavalry was published by Tricorn Books, based in Gail’s front room at High Street, Old Portsmouth.
The full colour, extremely glossy, immaculately-produced 224-page hardback tracks the 12 months in the regiment’s history starting with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding and ending with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
It gave Gail and her husband and business partner Dan unique access to the regiment throughout the year, its photographic archive and a prime position to photograph a host of state events.
They set up an ops room at the Knightsbridge barracks and photographed the men, and some women, behind Britain’s oldest regiment as they prepared themselves and their horses for a plethora of ceremonial occasions.
Many of them were on Horse Guards Parade, which the regiment is currently allowing to be used for the beach volleyball at the Olympics.
To prove that the regiment is not just about pomp in London, the book also features those who spent much of the last year on active service in Afghanistan.
The sumptuous book is dedicated to Household Cavalrymen who have lost their lives or been injured while serving their country.
All proceeds are being donated to the Household Cavalry Foundation, a charity which supports soldiers, veterans, casualties and horses.
But when the project started Gail thought it was an elaborate hoax.
‘Dan was ill in bed when up popped an e-mail on his phone purporting to be from a captain in the Household Cavalry asking if we’d be interested in doing a book. We thought it was a wind-up and ignored it.
‘Then a couple of days after the royal wedding last year we got a phone call at 8am that made me stand up and almost salute.
‘It was from the same captain again asking for details about publishing a book about the regiment using some unique photography they had of the wedding and from behind the scenes.’
Gail still wasn’t sure if the inquiry was genuine but responded with ideas, a proposal and then a meeting at Knightsbridge explaining how an independent publisher could maximise revenue from book sales.
Everything went quiet over the summer until the regiment returned to London from their summer break and suddenly the project was injected with new urgency.
Gail adds: ‘At this stage the Household Cavalry had just about every publisher in the country knocking on its door chasing this unique opportunity.
‘But not many could offer what we could: a comprehensive, cost-effective and personal publishing service that included professional photography, experienced design, marketing expertise and project management which would meet their exacting standards.’
And then came that daunting lunch with the regiment’s commanding officer Lt Col Dan Hughes.
‘It was very formal and I did dress formally, certainly no jeans because they are considered to be the devil’s cloth. Everybody called me ma’am. It was all really strange.
‘He was very direct. ‘‘Tell me why we should use you. How can I make the most amount of money?’’,’ he said.
‘I told him he would pay us a flat fee, the fee on our website not a penny more; we would project manage it, get it printed for the cheapest possible price and he would get to keep the proceeds. I told him the 10,000 copies would make him £120,000.’
Gail and Dan used their regular printers, Bairds (no relation) in Northern Ireland and got the Marriott hotel chain to pay the print costs.
‘All the other publishers gradually fell by the wayside. I think they just saw it as a cash cow. They thought they could offer them a tenner a book when we would give them £25.’
So the deal was done. Tiny Tricorn Books got the job and Gail and Dan drew up a work schedule to make sure every event at which the Household Cavalry featured was covered by professional photographers, either themselves or a freelance.
‘We often found ourselves leaving the house at midnight to get to Knightsbridge to shoot 2am rehearsals on the streets of London when no one else was about.
‘They gave us complete access to the horses, stables and everything that was going on behind the scenes. There are 100 horses stabled on three floors and special lifts to get them up and down. We were incredibly privileged.
‘We were given prime photographic positions for the Diamond Jubilee procession – nothing was too much trouble for them.’
There was also the small job of getting the Queen to write the foreword.
And so last month Gail and Dan found themselves at the launch at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane chatting to Princess Anne, the Colonel of the Blues and Royals.
‘The whole experience was quite surreal, but a unique opportunity.
‘Who would have thought that when we set up the business in 2008, at the beginning of the recession, that we’d end up producing a book like this.’
· The book sells for £29.95. To order a copy, e-mail the Household Cavalry direct at HCMR-RAO@mod.uk adding ‘Uniquely British’ to the subject field.
The Household Cavalry comprises The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals – the most senior regiments in the British Army.
It consists of two units, the Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR) and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR).
HCR is a Formation Reconnaissance regiment, acting as the eyes and ears of the Army; HCMR carries out ceremonial duties, both mounted and dismounted, on state and royal occasions.
The present-day units have evolved over the past 350 years and have been involved in most of the major overseas conflicts during that period, whether as a prestigious heavy cavalry unit prior to 1939, or more recently as an armoured reconnaissance regiment.