Her Majesty’s Garden Party: A Day to Remember | 1 June 2017
By Andrew Lannerd, Tour Director for Transcendent Travel
Summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace have taken place since the reign of Queen Victoria.
Originally they started as events for debutantes as well as for members of the aristocracy, but since the 1950s, Queen Elizabeth II opened up the events so she could meet many different types of people from a wide-range of society from Britain, the Commonwealth and the wider world (although a majority of guests reside in the United Kingdom).
An invitation to Her Majesty’s Garden Parties cannot be applied for – thus making it a most exclusive invite. Most who attend Her Majesty’s Garden Parties have achieved something great for their community. It may be a lifetime volunteer for a charity, or perhaps someone that is doing something special and it has been noticed.
Every summer, there are three Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace and one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I was fortunate enough to attend a Summer Party at Buckingham Palace in June 2006 which celebrated the 80th birthday of The Queen, but this event was my first summer garden party as a guest of Her Majesty. Needless to say this invitation was quite the honor.
I was notified about the forthcoming invitation three months ago, but it didn’t feel completely real until I saw the actual printed invitation bearing my name.
Obviously one has to consider appropriate attire for the garden party which is dress and hat for ladies and morning coat or lounge suit (day suit) for gentlemen. National dress can also be worn but no medals.
Upon my arrival to the United Kingdom last week, I started monitoring the weather very closely as of course no one wants rain to spoil the big day. The parties go on no matter the weather, and there have been many rather damp parties on the lawn.
Luckily for me the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect and couldn’t have been better.
In the lead-up to the event, I carefully planned my attire which included a new London suit, new shoes as well as two cherished pieces from my collection of royal memorabilia, which properly “fit the bill” for such a special day in the presence of Her Majesty. I choose to wear a pair of gold and enamel cufflinks featuring the cypher of Queen Elizabeth II as well as a rare diamond and gold badge also featuring Her Majesty’s cypher.
Prior to the event, I researched the traditional flow of the parties. What time the gates open, arrival times of The Queen and other members of the Royal Family, etc. In addition, I carefully sketched out a plan for ample enjoyment. Upon arrival do this, then stand here for the best view, then take tea, then stand here – all carefully coordinating the best plan to make the most out of every second of this very special day.
The parties don’t begin until the afternoon, so I wanted to make the entire day as special as possible so I booked myself a table for brunch at The Wolseley, one of my favorite spots to dine in London — famously known for superior food and people watching.
After brunch, I headed for an appointment at the legendary Truefitt & Hill next to St. James’s Palace for a men’s grooming session. Naturally, one must look their best in the presence of Her Majesty.
Truefitt & Hill is famous for being the oldest barber shop in the world and today styles HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales as well as other male members of the Royal Family. Truefitt and Hill have also had a few other well-known clients including Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Laurence Olivier and Frank Sinatra.
After my appointment, I was certainly looking my best, so I walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Upon arrival, it was quite fun to walk past the many people gathered, show my ticket, and then be escorted into a special area to wait until the palace gates opened at 2:30pm. As I waited, there were huge amounts of tourists that took pictures of the Garden Party guests in addition to asking us many questions about what we were doing, how we got invited, etc.
The weather was quite warm and there was a great deal of direct sunlight, so we were pleased when the palace gates opened and in we went. It was a great feeling to walk across the forecourt of the palace, under the balcony and through the archway that has accommodated many great carriage processions since the reign of Queen Victoria.
I walked across the quadrangle of the palace, up the red carpet and into the grand entrance where I was greeted by a warm welcome from the liveried footmen.
I then walked into the palace, across the Marble Hall and into the Bow Room which leads into the garden.
Upon arrival to the garden, I marveled in the moment and then took a leisurely walk to the rear of the garden which features the famous Waterloo Vase, as well as The Queen’s Rose Garden which is renowned for its beauty.
I had briefly been in this private area of the garden before, so I knew what to expect for layout. What certainly took me by surprise were the magnitude, beauty and smell of the magnificent roses on hand.
Over the years I have seen many incredible English rose gardens, but nothing compared to what I viewed. Every rose seemed to be perfectly in bloom on the day.
How fitting that The Queen of the United Kingdom should have such a glorious rose garden and I enjoyed seeing and smelling many of the rose varieties including “Golden Jubilee” and “Gracious Queen” just to name a few.
I will never forget the sights and smells of that rose collection and the joy that it was giving to all of the guests gathered.
I also had a nice walk around the lake and viewed the stone bridge which was the setting for a famous portrait by Antony Armstrong-Jones in the 1960s.
Then another stroll back to the main lawn which was filling up with guests, and one could hear the military bands playing – putting everyone in a fun, relaxed mood.
Before I knew it, the tea tents opened, and up I went for a warm welcome, the offering of tea, Sandringham Apple Juice or iced coffee. Then I moved along the buffet where there were scones, cucumber sandwiches, Queen Victoria sponge cake, fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, as well as other delicious offerings.
After tea, it was time to get into position as at the stroke of 4:00pm The Queen would enter the party with the playing of “God Save the Queen”.
Because of the research I did in advance, I knew exactly where the royal receiving line would be, so I positioned myself directly behind that line of people for the best possible vantage point for the national anthem as well as The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh as they entered the lawn.
At 3:55pm the excitement was building, and then exactly at the stroke of 4:00pm, Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh stood at the top of the palace stairs for the anthem.
I was standing to attention, while being very mindful that I was viewing something very special. After the anthem, the royal party walked down the stairs and basically right in front of me, slowly started working their way along the line of people.
I am very fortunate to have found this photograph of that very moment, which was featured in London’s Daily Mail newspaper.
The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were close enough for me to hear the conversation and in their typical way took their time with the guests that were presented in a gracious manner.
For the next hour, the royal party worked “The Lanes” which were carefully marked out by the Yeoman Warders (The Queen’s Bodyguard), chatting to people that had been selected for a formal presentation.
Later in the afternoon, I spoke to a lady that was presented to The Queen. She said over and over how gracious and interested Her Majesty was as well as how kind she was to her.
That is something I certainly know about The Queen and one of the many reasons why I have such respect for her.
The entire day was such great people watching. From the uniforms to the many types of people and outfits — it was a feast for the eyes.
Other members of the Royal Family freely walked the lawn during the event chatting to guests including The Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra and the Duchess of Gloucester.
The entire afternoon was just incredible, but there are a few things about the day that I will never forget and stand out:
- The incredible private rose garden of The Queen with the wonderful scent it created in the air.
- The stamina observed by seeing the royal couple work the lawn for an hour in the direct sunlight and heat, and NOT sitting down when they finally reached the Royal Tea Tent (despite chairs being there for them to use).
- The appreciation of truly being in the moment for “God Save the Queen” as I had a direct view of Her Majesty on the stairs of the palace.
But I’ll leave you with one memory that sums it all up for me:
Imagine walking across the lawn of Buckingham Palace after one of the most special afternoons of your life and the band strikes up “When you wish upon a star”.
I stopped, smiled and said to myself: “dreams do come true”.
“When you wish upon a star
makes no difference who you are
anything your heart desires
will come to you.”