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08/20/2009 Archived Entry: "Invitation to Buckingham Palace Tea Party"

Peter and Rhoda Walker outside Buckingham Palace

Earlier this year I received a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire asking if I would like to attend a Buckingham Palace Garden Party this summer. I had no idea how I came to receive this honour but, of course, I said yes and in due course an invitation arrived from Her Majesty for me and my wife. As the dress code stipulated morning coat, lounge suit or uniform for the men; with dresses and hats for the ladies, we needed a day’s shopping to equip ourselves. Then, on the appointed day, we took an early train to London and installed ourselves in the magnificent Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road. Fortunately, the weather was fine and warm and, as the party wasn’t due to start till 3pm, we had plenty of time to indulge in a champagne lunch.

There are three entrances to the Palace grounds but we wanted to do things properly so we walked round to the main front gates and joined an excited queue. Strict security meant we weren’t allowed to take cameras into the grounds but we could take pictures on our mobile phones as we waited outside on the pavement. The nice thing about using the main gate is that you get to go through the Grand Entrance into the Palace itself. It felt very special treading the thick red carpets and we marvelled at all the fine gilding and crystal chandeliers. Then it was out onto a terrace and into the gardens where it was a case of finding a good vantage point from which to watch proceedings. We took the sensible option and claimed a table and chairs near the tea tent and spent the next hour fascinated by the procession of guests strolling by. On such a beautiful day everyone looked splendid in their Sunday best, from the purple-robed Archbishop of Canterbury with his bishops and canons in their colourful robes, to numerous military personnel, police officers, firemen and others in pristine uniforms. But the most impressive were the foreign diplomats and wives who presented a dazzling array of colours in their various native dress.

Two military bands were playing alternately throughout the afternoon; then at 4 o’clock precisely, the National Anthem heralded the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the Palace terrace to begin their walkabout. They were accompanied by Prince Edward, Prince Michael and Princess Michael of Kent and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. The crowds surged forward to get a better view but as we couldn’t see a great deal, we left our table to move closer. Unfortunately about 3000 other guests had the same idea and we caught only brief glimpses as the royal party made their way through the throng, ultimately disappearing into the Royal Marquee for refreshments. At this point we decided to return to our own tea tent for delicious iced coffee, dainty sandwiches, exquisite strawberry tarts and assorted fancy cakes.

Suitably refreshed we embarked on a tour of the extensive grounds including the rose garden and arboretum. On heading back however we had a stroke of luck. We spotted a couple of recently vacated seats right next to the Royal Marquee and quickly settled ourselves on them. From there we had a grandstand view of the Queen when she reappeared after taking tea. She was wearing a bright pink dress and coat with matching hat and gloves and, we noted, a pair of good stout court shoes. Not for her the flimsy 4” heels worn by most of the ladies! She was escorted across to the Foreign Diplomats Marquee where she spent time chatting to guests before making her way back through the crowds to the Palace.
Finally at 6pm we wandered through the gardens and made our exit through the Grosvenor Gate. Then it was a quick change of clothes at the hotel, before we took a taxi to Kings Cross for the train home. It was a lovely day, one we will cherish for all its memories, but we still don’t know how we came to be invited.

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