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The Royal Parks' gardener who has kept the grass green and roses smelling sweet for five British Prime Ministers has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM).

This year is an extra special one for Paul Schooling, who has not only celebrated his 50th birthday, but has also been awarded the BEM for his 31 years public service to looking after some of London's most precious and unique spaces.

For the past 26 years, Paul, from Romford, Essex, has been the main gardener at 10 Downing Street, which has seen him mowing the lawn for Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron.

And he thanks Her Majesty the Queen for his long career in gardening, when at the age of 18 he wrote to her asking for a job at Buckingham Palace – the reply sent him in the direction of the Royal Parks where he started work at the Hyde Park nursery before later moving on to St James's Park and tending to the gardens at the Houses of Parliament.

Paul, who attended Crowlands and Marshalls Park Schools in Romford, said: "I treat the gardens at Downing Street like they are my own, even though I don't do a lot of work on my own garden because I don't have the time. In fact people here tend to ask me how my garden is rather than the Downing Street garden."

While he has many stories to tell during his time at Downing Street, Paul says his biggest highlight was preparing the garden for the visit of US President Obama in 2011, describing it as "a visit by one of the most important people in the world".

Other memories he has includes being pictured with each of the Prime Ministers during his time at the garden, narrowly escaping injury during the Downing Street bombing in 1991 after he booked a day's leave because of snow and being personally invited to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher whom he described as "lovely, like a mother hen".

Having received a letter from Downing Street informing him about his BEM, Paul said: "I am absolutely delighted and chuffed, if a little surprised. This will definitely be up there with some of the highlights of my career at Downing Street."

Paul, who now works for The Royal Parks' ground maintenance contractor OCS, officially receives his silver BEM medal in the next few months.

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