Ice Network

Coomes, Buckland enjoy chat with Queen Elizabeth

Three-time British champions tab Shpilband to take career to next level
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British ice dance duo Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland (center) pose with their mothers, Jane Coomes (left) and Julie Buckland (right), in front of the gates outside of Buckingham Palace. The group was invited to attend a garden party on the grounds. -Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland

They went to a garden party and had the thrill of their lives. It was a rough 2014-15 season for three-time British ice dance champions Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, but they got a nice jolt to propel them into the future when they attended the memorable event at Buckingham Palace on May 28.

As they walked through the palace en route to the garden, one of the ushers politely inquired as to the reason they'd been invited. They explained they were Olympic athletes, to which he responded by asking if they would like to meet Queen Elizabeth II.

"Shortly after that, the Queen came over and he said, 'May I introduce,' and he introduced us all and said what we did," Coomes said. "Then, he backed away and left us to speak with her." 

"I was a bit worried as to how to address her at the beginning," Buckland said.

"She was actually really easy to talk to," Coomes said. "I was quite nervous that I might say something silly or mess up. She was actually very knowledgeable. She asked us what music we skated to and if we knew [Jayne] Torvill and [Christopher] Dean. She was very good at keeping the conversation going."

The conversation lasted approximately five minutes. As Queen Elizabeth was about to move on to other guests, Coomes mentioned that her grandfather wanted to thank her for the card she sent on his 60th wedding anniversary. (It is a tradition in Great Britain that the Queen sends cards to couples celebrating a 60th anniversary as well as individuals who turn 100.)

"She said, 'How wonderful,'" Coomes said. "I felt so lucky I was able to do that."

The duo were accompanied by their mothers, Julie Buckland and Jane Coomes. Coomes said her great-grandmother used to joke about having tea with the Queen, which made the day especially poignant for Jane.

"It was something really nice, to show how well we've done and how lucky we've been throughout our career -- to get the invite and be appreciated," Buckland said. "It was a real honor and it was nice timing to go into a new season."

After training for several years in New Jersey with Evgeni Platov, Coomes, 26, and Buckland, 25, moved to Novi, Michigan, in mid-May to train with Igor Shpilband. Having greatly admired Shpilband's work with teams like Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, they hope that, under his guidance, they can take the next step in their career.

"It's taken us a little bit out of our comfort zone," Buckland said of training alongside several other top teams. "It's something we've not had before. I think that's going to help us get a little extra boost. We're at a certain level now and we need to acquire a different skill set to take us up that next little bit."

"It keeps us on our toes," Coomes said. "We're good friends with Madi [Chock] and Evan [Bates], and Isabella [Tobias]. We've grown up together. It's nice to be with people our age and to be working toward the same goal. I'm looking forward to more of that."

Coomes is almost fully recovered from the pneumonia that kept them out of last season's world championships this year.

Philip Askew, Coomes' stepfather, has long done their choreography, and they said Shpilband is open to having him remain part of the team. They will keep their free dance from last season, and their new short dance is about 80 percent complete.

"Make sure we keep what we do well," Buckland said.

"Everything is coming together," Coomes said.