Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Bali | Thu, 09/08/2011 8:00 PM
These words of the king-in-waiting made up part of the chat Prince
Charles had recently with the longtime Indonesian resident and citizen
who was recently at Buckingham Palace to receive her Member of the Most
Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). Her award was announced
during Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s honors on Dec. 31 last year and
presented on June 22, 2011.
Northmore’s MBE was for her work helping sufferers of cranio/facial
disorders receive treatment across the east of Indonesia through the
Smile Foundation of Bali, or Yayasan Senyum Bali as it is known in
“I was always conscious of all the people who were with me [during the
award ceremony]: doctors, donors, staff, volunteers and well-wishers of
all kinds — a big organization. It was not Mary Northmore receiving the
MBE, but all these people with me,” said Northmore, typically modest of
her outstanding role leading the Smile Foundation that has to date
assisted more than 1,000 people in cranial facial reconstructions,
surgeries that have also reconstructed lives and smiles.
The efforts of the Smile Foundation depend heavily on the skills of
Professor David David of the Royal Adelaide Women’s and Children’s
Hospital, which annually donates several beds for severely ill
Indonesian patients whose extreme facial reconstructions require the
leading techniques of Northmore’s hero, Professor David.
“There were 80 other people at Buckingham Palace to be invested with the
Queen’s awards. We could each have three guests, so there was my
father, my stepmother and — I couldn’t believe it — Professor David
David came from a Shanghai conference. It was such a thrill to have him
there. He had met the Queen before but had never been in Buckingham
Palace,” said Northmore of the MBE honor she insists is shared.
While not an entrenched royalist by any means, Northmore says the
sensation of driving through the gates to the palace was “absolutely
amazing. My hair practically stood on end and I thought ‘I am here in
the quadrangle of Buckingham Palace.’ We stopped under the portico and
stepped out onto the red carpet. It was amazing. My guests were shown
into the Grand Ballroom and I was shown into the Long Gallery full of
paintings, Canalletto’s, Vermeers and others — it was unbelievable to
see these. You never see collections like that in private homes. It was
very, very beautiful,” said Northmore of an experience few people ever
A few tips on protocol from palace minders and Northmore found herself standing in front of Prince Charles to receive her award.
“That was the first time I have curtsied in my life. Prince Charles
stepped forward and pinned on the MBE medal and we chatted. He asked how
long I had lived in Bali and I said 26 years. He replied ‘wonderful
people, wonderful people,’ so I said perhaps you should come again and
he answered ‘yes… I should’,” explained Northmore of her accidental
marketing of her home to Britain’s future king when she took Bali to
Not only did Northmore advertise Bali to the prince through
word-of-mouth, her jacket for the occasion was created from a Balinese
painting, “I think that was the first Balinese painting to enter
Buckingham Palace,” said Northmore, who also wore a black, feathered
fascinator hat — fascinators currently made famous by the newest
Princess of Wales, Kate.
“I had bought my hat at Tiara Dewata in Denpasar for Rp 100,000 [US$12].
I had been there doing the shopping and spotted the hat. People in the
UK loved it and asked where I got it — at the supermarket — where else,”
chuckled Northmore who gifted the hat that went to the palace to her
niece in England.
British-born Northmore arrived in Indonesia more than two decades ago;
originally living in Bandung in West Java, Northmore met artist Abdul
Aziz during a vacation to Bali. The couple fell in love and married and
Mary moved to Bali where she continues to live, now as Aziz’s widow.
When Northmore first stepped on Indonesian soil all those years ago, she
would never have expected to spend the rest of her life halfway around
the world from her birth country, taking on her new tropical home’s
nationality and becoming one of its citizens. Her MBE from her birth
country recognizes the good she, with her colleagues, has achieved in
her adopted nation.
And it was this that Northmore says was the most valuable aspect of the event.
“At the party after the ceremony there were people from my teenage
years, there was my best Indonesian friend, the first dentist in Ubud
who I knew in Washington, there was Professor David David — none of
these people knew each other so it was a bit like ‘This is your life’,
so it was an opportunity to take stock of my life and what I am doing,
to look at the people who are important to me — it was a very good
summing up of my life so far and you wonder what next, but I don’t see
Smile Foundation of Bali letting up in the next 10 years,” said
Northmore, who can reckon the sum of her life to date with pride.