A royal afternoon tea with Her Majesty the Queen
On the most beautiful sunny afternoon of this otherwise abysmal summer in London, I had tea with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in her garden at Buckingham Palace.Skip to next paragraph
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So, to be sure, had some 4,999 other people. All were dressed in their formal best -- their own or clothes specially hired for the afternoon: diplomats and civil servants, local dignitaries and visiting firemen, businessmen and women, nurses, teachers, and all sorts of ordinary people suddenly become extraordinary for the space of a few hours by dint of the company in which they found themselves.
As they filed in, sightseers brandished cameras at the men in morning coats of black or gray, the women in assorted party gear with hats and gloves. "Coo -- look at her! Is she famous?"
All that week, yellow traffic indicators had warned London's motorists to avoid the West End area. Five thousand guests arriving in 2,000 to 3,000 cars can certainly snarl up London's already congested streets. But the palace has long experience with crowds. Special stick-on car labels had been issued to guests with their tickets, entitling them to park on approach roads.
Chauffeur-driven cars can even drive right into the palace forecourt, which is convenient on arrival, but can be embarrassing when they have to be summoned by loudspeaker afterward: "Rex Limousine is now waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Shelbourne-Rockingham." Oho, so that Rolls was only hired for the afternoon!
Best of all, say the regulars, is to take the subway to Green Park Station. Coming up on the south exit, a sign indicates that you must turn right for Buckingham Palace, right again for Queen's Walk. What could be more appropriate?
Most years, Queen Elizabeth gives three garden parties for between 4,000 and 6,000 guests. Some are invited on their own account, some as part of an allocation of tickets to an embassy, organization, or establishment figure. This bumper year, she gave four. The extra one was a dutiful and loving daughter's tribute to her mother, also Elizabeth (the "Queen Mum"), former consort and now widow of King George VI. An active member of the older generation, the eversmiling Queen Mother is a constant reminder that royalty is an ex officio business from which there is no official retirement age.
The hosts at this year's last Royal Garden Party were the Queen and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with Charles, Prince of Wales, in attendance.
At 4 p.m. promptly. Her Majesty, in sprigged yellow shirtwaist and hat, and Prince Philip and Prince Charles in morning coats and carrying gray top hats, appeared on the terrace of the palace. Punctuality is the politeness of princes , and evidently, of the daughter, wife, and mother of princes, too, especially for a function in her own backyard.
A red-coated band of royal musicians played the national anthem. Then the royal party made its way down the wide stone staircase into the gardens, where thousands of eager, upturned faces awaited them.