Just before Christmas 2013, I was surprised to find an envelope from County Hall, Preston among my post. It was a letter from Lancashire Lieutenancy telling me that the Lord Lieutenant was enquiring if I would like my name forward for an invitation to one of Her Majesty's Garden Party's at Buckingham Palace in recognition of 'your personal contribution to the good of the community in Lancashire'. I have no idea why I received the invitation. I am involved in a number of organisations, but did not think that I was more active the others whose company I enjoy in the various groups.
The invitation would be for me, along with a spouse/partner/or companion and three dates were given. The enclosed form needed to be returned within three weeks. I mentioned it to my youngest sister, who lives in north London, to see if she would be my companion (my other two sisters live in Belfast).
The form was completed in good time and then silence! I was beginning to think that maybe our names were not on the final list but, when in mid-February, I received an acknowledgement of the Registration Form saying that our names were included for the Garden Party on Tuesday 10 June 2014, I was delighted. It went on to state that a formal invitation, together with information about dress code, timings, security matters etc. would be sent direct from Buckingham Palace about 4 weeks before the event.
Until that invitation arrived, we were to say nothing. The matter was confidential. Furthermore it stated that the Palace reserves the right to refuse nominations…..so Ita and I kept quiet about it all!
At the beginning of May we both received very official envelopes marked 'Lord Chamberlain, Buckingham Palace' with a Buckingham Palace post-mark….I had not realised that there was a special one for SW1A 1AA! It held the official invitation along with a very helpful leaflet about the 'dos and don'ts', the security guidance etc.
What Do I Wear?
The problem now was what should I wear! For Ladies it stated: 'Day dress with hat or Uniform (No medals). Trouser suit may be worn'. The suit was just an excuse to go out and shop for something special but I'd not worn a hat since we stopped wearing a school beret!
As I was now free to mention the invitation I asked advice of some of my Soroptimist friends. I also told the Grail Companions during our days together at Welwyn. Among the Companions and Soroptimists were people who had attended Royal Garden Parties (Margaret Harper, Claire Davidson and Sheila Jones) and all had worn hats! I tried on a couple at the home of one friend who had several hat boxes on offer-but not for me! Another friend offered a fascinator which was nice but a bit too feathery, although it became my back-up. Ita said there were some simple fascinators on sale in her local area and that if I got to London a day or so early I could always shop there. She had already got her outfit and hat sorted!
A Flurry of Fashion
I travelled to London on the Sunday and while Ita was at work on Monday bought a simple fascinator in the local British Heart Foundation shop!
We'd been advised to queue to enter the grounds by the Hyde Park Corner gate and leave by the Grand Entrance. It was a lovely summer day and we got there around 2.30. Already a queue was beginning to form - ladies in summer outfits with hats, and fascinators, gentlemen in suits (some very formal) and members of all branches of the forces and police in their uniforms. The Garden Party was from 4pm-6pm but the gates would open at 3pm. Passports etc were duly checked along with other appropriate papers and, interestingly, we had been advised not to bring the official invitation card, presumably so that we could retain it as a souvenir of the occasion?
Once inside we were free to wander around the Gardens and admire the rose garden, shrubberies, lawns and lake. Tea was to be served in the Main tent from 3.30 - 5.00pm and the National Anthem would announce the Queen and Members of the Royal family at 4pm.
A small number of people had been selected to be introduced to Her Majesty and she and other Royals present moved along lanes in the crowds escorted by the Yeomen of the Guard and Gentlemen at Arms. We saw Prince Philip - who was warmly applauded as it happened to be his birthday - Princess Anne, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke of Kent, and others we did not recognise. It was actually difficult to see who was there because of the crowds around them. According to friends and family who saw a report of the occasion on TV, there were more than eight thousand people present. .
Service in the tea tent was orderly and very efficient…the mainly young staff have clearly become very practised at feeding large numbers of people! There was also a Diplomatic Tea Tent and a Royal Tea Tent with cordoned off areas around them. It was fascinating to see who went there. The only person we recognised was Cardinal Murphy O'Connor who joined guests in the Royal Tea Tent.
It was an enjoyable yet slightly strange way to spend a warm summer weekday afternoon, wandering round someone's gardens with lots of people you don't know, listening to music played by two military bands…. as far as one can tell, mostly just ordinary people, couples, mothers and daughters and friends….all very relaxed.
The National Anthem was playing again and the Royal Party returned to the Palace while we joined the crowds heading for the West Terrace and the Grand Entrance via a large State Room, and the courtyard which one sees on TV when dignitaries are being greeted at the Palace. But there was no loitering!
We had been clearly told that photography is prohibited in the palace and gardens but we could see several people with what looked like video cameras recording the proceedings at various places/times during the afternoon. A DVD of the event will soon be available so, hopefully, we will have an opportunity to see what we missed even though we were present! Who knows we may even spot ourselves in the crowds!
I am grateful to whoever nominated me to receive the invitation. Ita and I had a most enjoyable afternoon participating in a very British occasion, hat and all!
Companion of the Grail
& President of Grail Society
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