I was very honoured to be asked to accompany my sister, Sue, to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace in London, on the 16th May 2017. She had been invited for her considerable services to the village community where she lives.
The day was well planned but stumbled because of the traffic issues after the discovery of an unexploded WW11 bomb the day before, along the route to the train station. Traffic chaos ensued but, with quick thinking, a cycle ride, albeit in my new suite, and then driving to an alternative station to catch the scheduled train further down the track, we were eventually able to relax for the picturesque journey to the metropolis.
Perfect weather had been forecast, a window of clear skies and sunshine from days of rain and cloud seemed to be too good to be true, but it happened.
My sister was not a seasoned traveller in London and the underground would have been a challenge on her own she admitted, but one change of line and only three stops later, we walked up and out into the bright sunshine of Green Park, within sight of the walls of the Palace.
We had planned to eat lunch in Hyde Park, it is adjacent to Green Park. The gentle walk there, took in many memorials, statues and landmarks and bought us easily to the next wide-open space. Used well by residents, workers, and visitors alike it was literally a breath of fresh air to entre. The restaurant I had chosen is on the Serpentine lake, a more elegant setting was hard to find. PIC
Italian Pizza, made by Italian chefs and a healthy house salad filled a growing space perfectly.
With time built into the schedule for a little sightseeing, we strolled along the lake taking in the wonderful setting of mature trees of so many kinds and both formal and natural planting bought the countryside to the city perfectly.
Being spring, there were many new little lives negotiating we humans, but we all managed OK.
Our target was the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Garden. A granite water feature which attracts many visitors who often to just sit, and take in the different sounds from the water bubbling or crashing through the various sculptured features on its way around the circular feature. A peaceful space to remember the many aspects of a short but influential life.
Time to head back to the formal part of the day.
Security at the entrance we chose, at the lower side of the grounds, was high as expected, but efficiency moved the guests through the cordon of machine gun armed police, to the more welcoming military uniforms of the Palace staff. Quicker than we expected, we were into the grounds and wow, what a place to find yourself in.
Despite having seen the gardens on the television and in photographs, my first impression was of it being far more natural in its layout than I might have imagined. At 40 acres, it’s a big space. The age of many of the trees and the huge diversity of planting from hundreds of years of royal patronage makes it a forest, then a shady glade, then a lakeside stroll with rocky outcrops and finally rolling lawns; a microcosm of English countryside re-created in walled privacy.
But we were not alone. Around eight thousand people attend each of the four garden parties hosted by the Queen each year. The space was soon awash with suites and uniforms of almost every cultural, religious and military background. Then of course, the best of frocks adjourned by a sea of hats and fascinators in every style and colour you could ever imagine. Here are just a couple of them, yes, it’s me and my sister.
There was plenty of time to walk and watch and then sit a while and just absorb the wonder that this event is. Obviously well planned and rehearsed for many decade, everything was just perfect.
The more formal part of the afternoon was signalled by the arrival of the Yoman Warders. Normally found at the Tower of London, they made space in front of the palace steps for the arrival of the Royal party. With diplomatic and other guests, having been entertained inside the palace slowly moving through the two channels of we ordinary guests, the familiar but slight form of the Queen appeared on the terrace. She was dressed in pale apricot pink. Other members of the Royal family followed closely, but not too closely, to stand with the queen at the top of the steps for the National Anthem to be played by one of the two military bands on duty. Having managed to get close to the front of the crowd, we had as good a view as we had hoped.
The Queen and The Prince Phillip made their way down one of the corridors of guests to a long line of individuals selected to be presented to her Majesty. Other members of the family made small talk and greeted many other guests as they made their way round towards the Royal Tea Tent. Both were very measured but relaxed encounters which took more than 45 minutes. It was what many of the guests came there to be part of. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, The Prince Willian and Kate, were obviously a crowd favourite, although the more mature members of the wider family were equally welcomed for their interest in all the guests they met.
And then came the famous Afternoon Tea. Organisation and execution ‘par excellance’.
Having known of one other couple from my sister’s village being there, we didn’t manage to find them, but did stumble into another lady that we didn’t know about. Low and behold, another couple overhearing the mention of Birmingham also joined us in conversation while we ate and drank and soaked in the marvellous atmosphere, sights and sounds.
The royal party eventually finished their own refreshments and, after more formalities for the royal guests to thank the Queen, the Royal party made their way back towards the Palace but took time once more to meet and greet more guests on their way.
That was the formal day done. A last glimpse of members of the royal family saying their own farewells before leaving in various vehicles, allowed us then to leave the grounds. Our choice was the Grand Entrance, the world-famous frontage of the Palace. With the usual tourist lined railings, many wondering what the event might have been we had a final photograph. The feeling to be on the inside is very special.
With time in our schedule, we headed for yet another royal park, St James’s, at the side of the Mall. Finding the café, I had used many times in the past, a relaxing tea and welcome sit down was welcome. Here we watched both people and wildlife while reflecting on the marvellous privilege we had just been part of.
Still too early for the train, a short walk past Horse Guards Parade to Trafalgar square, a wave to Nelson on his column and we headed back into the underground. A crowded five stops back to Marylebone station left us to wait for the train back north. There was so much to ponder from the sights and sounds of the afternoon, the time went quickly and we were soon seated in our transport.
The only annoyance in the perfect day was the continued aftermath of the traffic problems in Birmingham. Having booked to go from, and return to, the city centre, but then having left the car at a different station, we were amused to find that the train didn’t stop at the one we needed, at that time of night. Quick thinking and patience had us alighting at yet another station on rout and then a taxi to the carpark found us soon home and safe, still basking in the days wonders.