I believe it was around 2001 when I received an email from a fellow in the U.K. named Mick Bell. Mick was (and I believe still is) the owner of Bloke Fly Rods. Evidently, he had been commissioned to build a custom Spey rod as a gift for a high ranking government official and wanted to know if I would be interested in making a hand-turned reel seat insert for the REC hardware he planned to use. When I inquired as to who exactly the official was, he explained that he had basically been sworn to secrecy by the individual(s) who commissioned the build, but after the gift had been presented would he only then be able to reveal the recipient. I agreed to turn the insert, and a few days later, received the Pewter finished REC hardware that Mick had chosen to use for this build.
Upon receipt, I was surprised how large the hardware was. I was used to building seats for Trout weight rods, and the occasional saltwater fly or spinning seat insert, but this was a whole different animal that would require some specific tooling, mainly to bore the wood to the large diameter of the rod blanks butt section. which was close to 7'8" if I remember correctly. The interesting thing about this project was that Mick pretty much gave me full control over the type of wood used, as long as it was unique and visually striking. I decided that because he had given me his trust with this project, having had no previous experience or track record with my work or my company that I would turn not one, but TWO inserts, then let him make the choice as to which one he liked the best. What we ended up with was a very highly figured piece of California Buckeye Burl and a really vividly colored piece of Red Palm, as can be seen in the pictures above.
Thankfully the inserts and hardware arrive safely in the U.K. a short time later and Mick completed the build. Mick continued to send me pictures as the build progressed, and he ended up using the Red Palm not only because of it's striking contrast against the pewter hardware but also because it allowed him to match the guide wraps with a closely colored thread for a really classy looking piece of kit.
A few weeks later I received pictures of the completed build, with a very kind note thanking me for my participation in the project, and that the rod was of all things, a birthday gift for the Prince Of Wales from the employees at Buckingham Palace. I turned several more seats for Bloke Fly Rods over the next year, but unfortunately had to give up the custom work a few years later, as my business grew to a point where I no longer had the time to engage in that type of work. It was however a real highlight of my career to have even been considered to be involved in that project, much less allowed to manufacture the final piece.
Mick, if you're still out there and happen to read this...I know it's been almost 20 years, but thanks again for such an honor to have been involved in that build...I hope Prince Charles is still enjoying the rod!