Even though teenager Gauri Kumar had lived in London before moving to Singapore last year, she had seen Buckingham Palace only from the outside. Her view changed this week when she and fellow Singaporean Tan Wan Gee were escorted into the palace and taught how to curtsy.
It was to prepare the 14-year-olds to meet Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who handed them certificates for their writing skills on Wednesday: Gauri came in first in the junior category of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition, while Wan Gee was runner-up. The senior category was won by Inessa Rajah, 17, from South Africa and the runner-up was Esther Mungalaba, 18, from Zambia.
They beat 13,500 others from Commonwealth countries, earning a "Winners Week" in London which includes visits to Cambridge University, the Houses of Parliament, the Evening Standard newspaper and the British Library.
Gauri, who attends Tanglin Trust School, said she was "extremely nervous" about the royal experience. "I haven't processed it yet," she said after receiving her award from the Duchess.
For her winning essay, Tales Of An Insider/Outsider, Gauri wrote about feeling disconnected from her relatives and culture because she does not speak Hindi well.
Wan Gee wrote a poem, Are We Really So Different? Dear Santa, advocating the importance of equality. Wan Gee, who is studying at Temasek Junior College, described the Duchess as "incredibly nice". She had asked the girls about the inspiration behind their winning essays, which had to reflect on the theme of the competition: An Inclusive Commonwealth.
Founded in 1883, the essay competition is the world's oldest international schools writing contest. This year drew the most number of entries. Singapore alone sent in 4,585 entries - more than any other country. The last Singaporean winner was Selina Xu from Nanyang Girls High School, who was senior runner-up in 2014.
The entries were judged by a pan-Commonwealth body of judges from more than 30 countries.
Mr Michael Lake, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, which organises the competition, said the four winners represent the "very best and brightest that the Commonwealth has to offer".
"Their essays and poems explore contemporary themes with maturity, intelligence and depth beyond their years," he said.
The girls had words of encouragement for aspiring writers. Said Wan Gee: "Never give up on your writing. You never know where it'll take you, for example, here."