“Taking part in the Remembrance Parade at the Cenotaph at Whitehall this November was such an amazing experience – one of the many high-profile national events I have played at since becoming a member of the Coldstream Guards Band,” says Charlotte Webb (fmbn 06-11).
Although Charlotte had always been interested in military life, she had never seen herself as someone who would pursue a career in the armed forces. Opting for the world or work rather than university after leaving Felsted, she spent five years as a personal assistant in London before realising that she needed a career change.
“I loved my job as a PA, but knew sitting behind a desk Monday to Friday, eight hours a day, was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my career,” Charlotte explains. “I had always been active, so was looking for a job that didn’t involve desk work.”
It was only by accident that she came across the idea of making a living as a military musician. “I noticed an advertisement online for the Corps of Army Music and looked in to it a bit more. They were holding an insight week at their headquarters in London, which I applied for, never thinking I would get a place because I hadn’t picked up my clarinet since leaving school! I never saw myself having a career in music, I just saw it as a hobby!”
Charlotte was surprised to be offered a place on the Corps of Army Music insight week, but decided to go ahead with it to find out more. “Not only did you have to do an audition at the Royal Military School of Music, you also had to go through the basic selection tests to join as a soldier in the British Army,” says Charlotte. “I attended the insight week and started my application in August 2016 and then began basic training in May 2017. This includes medical checks to make sure you are fit and well enough to even be considered to start the application process. After being given the all-clear, you are invited to attend a two-day selection at one of the Army Training camps, where basic fitness tests are carried out.”
Having thrown herself in to everything on offer at Felsted, Charlotte was prepared to give the selection process her best shot and was delighted when she discovered a few months later that she had achieved a place with the Coldstream Guards Band, one of the oldest and best known bands in the British Army, distinctive in their bright red uniform and bearskins.
“I think with this career, you have to go in with a positive attitude,” she says, “especially with basic training. I was a bit nervous about having to do soldier training for 14 weeks before I moved on to my music training, but actually I surprised myself in achieving something I never thought was possible.”
A Felsted music scholar, Charlotte had been a member of many school ensembles, but the Coldstream Guards Band gave her the chance to be involved in some of the country’s most-watched national events.
“I’ve been in the Coldstream Guards Band since July 2018,” she says. “In my first week in the band, we had the opportunity to play for Donald Trump’s visit to the UK - unfortunately, because I was new and had no kit, I was unable to take part. What an amazing first gig that could have been!”
Charlotte is getting used to performing under the gaze of tourists and foreign heads of state. “I’ve taken part in Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and played at the state visit for the King and Queen of the Netherlands. Remembrance at the Cenotaph at Whitehall was a highlight. I’m very much looking forward to taking part in the Trooping of the Colour, the Queen's birthday parade, which takes place in June. I feel very privileged to be wearing such an iconic uniform to work and doing something I love every day.”
Behind the scenes, the army has offered some great opportunities for Charlotte to take part in physical activities. “Adventure training in the Army is offered to all and is part of your development as a solider,” says Charlotte. “The whole band headed down to do a week’s sailing on the Solent in the Isle of Wight and a week’s skiing adventure training. In this job, there is always an end goal – it’s amazing how your mental attitude changes because of the different environments and situations you are put in.”
Although it’s not uncommon for women to join the Coldstream Guards Band, Charlotte is currently one of just eight out of 45 band members. “With the recent announcement that women can do any job role in the army it will be interesting to see what this ratio will be in the years to come!”
She encourages anyone who finds an army career appealing to find out more. “I was unsure whether this career would be for me, but if I hadn’t applied for it, I would never have known. I enjoyed my time working as a personal assistant and knew that that life would be there if I decided a career in the army wasn’t for me! I look back on everything I have achieved since I started my army career in May 2017 and am amazed by the things I have already learnt about life, and about myself.”