The process started back in January. Manjula recommended our names to the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, whose office passes them on to the Palace, whence the Lord Chamberlain's Office issues the invitations. We can each take one guest with us. Ajay's wife is poorly today and can't come. Clare is with me. We've both agonised over what to wear. I buy a new suit (the day before, of course!) I haven't bought a new suit in at least seven years and am embarrassed to admit that I've gone up from a 34 inch waist to a 38 in that time.
Dress code for the day is:
Ladies: Day dress with hat or Uniform (No medals). Trouser suit may be worn
Gentlemen: Morning Coat, Lounge Suit or Uniform (No medals).
Chains of Office may be worn; National Dress may be worn.
Clare is wearing a Fascinator. If it were not for occasions such as this (and Ladies Day at Ascot), the Fascinator would surely have died out by now. There are plenty on show here, of varied designs and colours. Some of them look amazing, like little clouds of sprites orbiting the wearer's head; others look weirdly like the result of an explosive gunshot wound! Clare's is very subtle - it's cyan, matching the main colour in her outfit. She's worn it since leaving the house this morning. When she got into a taxi to go to the train station, the taxi driver asked her, "And where are we going to?" She replied, "Buckingham Palace" to which the driver responded, "No, where are we going to now?"
Gates open to admit guests at 1500. We spend an hour or so before that in Green Park. We have a brief pleasant chat with a fellow guest, who turns out to be Photo Editor for the magazine Derbyshire Life. I take the opportunity to leave her my card for REDP (of course). I get two 99s from a kiosk at the other end of the park and walk back to the bench Clare's on with arms ever more outstretched, to prevent the melting ice cream dripping onto my suit.
Here's the timetable for the afternoon, taken from the printed programme:
1500 Gates open
1530 Tea is served in the main tent until 1700
1540 Yeomen of the Guard hold ground
1600 The National anthem announces the arrival of Her Majesty The Queen and Members of the Royal Family. A small number of individual presentations will be pre-arranged with those who are to be presented in the Garden near the Terrace Steps. Gentlemen at arms will then form lanes for the Queen and Members of the Royal Family to move through the guests.
1615 Tea is served in the Diplomatic Tea Tent
1630 Tea is served in the Royal Tea Tent
1710 The Queen and Members of the Royal Family depart
1800 The National anthem
We enter the Palace grounds not through the gate at Hyde Park Corner, as the queue is probably shorter there, with a wait of about 20 minutes. We move down through the gardens following the sound of the band, eventually settling in a shady spot from which we can see the front entrance to the Palace. The Royal Car (I don't know if that's meant to have initial caps, but best to play safe) draws up and two people who appear to be the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh (recognisable at some distance by his distinctive gait) alight and go on up the steps into the Palace.
Several myths and misconceptions exist about these Garden Parties (many of which I believed myself before attending). It's certainly a mistake to describe it (as so many do) as "taking tea with the Queen". We don't see the Queen or any other member of the Royal Family close up. No one comes into contact with any of them unless you have a specific invitation to the Diplomatic Tea Tent or the Royal Tea Tent. A good number of people position their seats in front of the Royal Tea Tent (which stretches for quite a way and is open to view for almost its entire length) and get a good view of the dignitaries inside. That's not really our cup of tea (Ah thang yaw!) and we spend most of our time looking round the gardens. Clare's a bit of a birdwatcher, so takes an interest in what's swimming on the lake.
In the general information all guests receive in advance of the day, we're told that "cameras may not be brought as photography is not permitted in the Palace or Garden" (that's in bold caps) and that "mobile telephones must be switched off" (that's in bold caps and underlined). So there are no personal photos to illustrate the visit (although as we walk round the garden, we do see folk taking sneaky pics here and there). I did try and take a few in Green Park, before and after, but I haven't yet mastered the arms-length camera phone self portrait (as you can see, from the one below).
This is a pleasant experience (no matter what my expression might say in the photo above) and a lovely way to spend a sunny summer afternoon. We're glad we went and we're grateful to Manjula for putting our names forward to receive the invitations.