Guess where I was on Tuesday? Only having tea with the queen!
Yeah, baby. I was invited along with a couple of thousand other ‘subjects’ to attend one of her special Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace. I’d love to say I was asked because Her Majesty had read all my books and was a huge fan but it was actually because I’m Chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group.
It was all Top Secret. You are not supposed to tell anyone you have been invited until the official invitation arrives. Once it does arrive, it comes with a few rules:
- Ladies must wear dresses and hats, men ‘lounge suits.’
- People must bring two forms of ID with them
- No photographs are allowed.
Although I can understand why it is imposed, the ‘no photographs’ rule is a shame. How can we not take photographs of such a special occasion? Anyway here’s me in my hat outside the house before we set off:
As you can see I chose the formal look. I felt a bit daft on the tube, I can tell you. I am not a hat person; hats hate me. It’s because I have a big head – the hat I’m wearing had to be stretched for a week to make it fit and I’m not even kidding.
On arrival at Buckingham Palace Mr P and I duly showed our two forms of ID. ‘Where does that name come from?’ the police officer asked us.
At which the police officer came out with a whole speech in Polish, which would have been very nice had either of us understood a word (second-generation slackers that we are). I think he was saying ‘Have a great day,‘ but it could have been ‘Don’t tread on the corgis.’ Who knows?
Then we were inside the gates. We followed the other ladies in hats and fascinators (which was cheating, I think. A fascinator is not a hat) and the men in suits through the main courtyard and into another, grand inner courtyard. There is barely time to take in the classic architecture before you are ushered up the stairs and inside Buckingham Palace. This is exciting, I must admit. You walk along a red-carpeted corridor, the walls choc-a-block with gilt framed oil paintings and china plates. Again, it’s only a brief glimpse; our time inside lasted for about 30 seconds. We didn’t get a sniff at the living area or bedrooms or anything, despite us both being members of the National Trust and wearing a proper hat and ‘lounge suit.’ Most disappointing.
OK so now we’re in the garden. This is fabulous. Information that came with the invitation informs you that it covers 40 acres, (that’s about as big as the average city park) there’s a mulberry garden laid out by James I in 1609 and a lake added by George IV in the 1820s. It was pretty spectacular, especially as the day was so sunny. It reminded me of the scene in Mary Poppins when she jumps through the chalk picture on the pavement and has a day out with Bert. There was even a brass band, in green livery, playing Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’.
By then it was about 3.30. The queen and her attendants arrive at 4.00. It was time for tea. Not just any tea. Royal Garden Party Tea. This was served in a long tea tent that ran for about fifty metres adjacent to the terrace and down towards the lake. I suppose the best way to describe it is to say it was served efficiently, despite the large number of people. There were several ‘stations’ all in a long row, each with two waiters, a large silver tea urn and the food. We selected our station and queued, laughing at how high people piled their plate, so determined to grab as much of everything as they could.
The food was beautifully presented. There were the archetypal finger-length cucumber sandwiches, minus crusts, of course, then a variety of miniature pastries and cakes. I couldn’t resist sneaking a picture at this stage, despite the presence of Yeomen of the Guard with sharpened pikes ready to cart me off to the Tower for breaking the no photo rule. Oh, the joy of the iPhone camera.
The round pastry on top of my sandwich was my favourite. The shortcrust pastry was light and buttery and the lemon and mango filling was tangy without being acidic. The main problem was we had to eat standing, the tables next to the tent having been filled faster than deckchairs on a hotel poolside.
Then came the Big Moment. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, now in her Diamond Jubilee year, arrived. I’d like to report more, about what she was wearing and how radiant she looked but reader, I couldn’t see a thing! I managed a glimpse of the top of her hat (salmon pink) but that was about it. Pushier people than I (the ones in fascinators, mainly) formed queues ten deep along the pathway the queen would take towards the Royal Tea Tent but every time Mr P and I found a gap someone stood in it. We did have a better view of Prince Philip and Princess Michael of Kent as they posed momentarily on the terrace during the National Anthem but that was as far as my royalty spotting went. So I never got chance meet our sovereign face to face or to curtsy and remember that ‘Ma’am rhymes with ‘jam’ but none of that mattered. It was a wonderful experience to share with my Bert.