True to form, before he was taken to hospital for what has been described as “an exploratory operation”, the Duke of Edinburgh was at Her Majesty’s side, supporting her during a traditional Buckingham Palace Garden party while she hosted a diverse range of guests, including actor Benedict Cumberbatch and a group of Scottish Girl Guides.
None of the guests, it was later revealed, had any idea that the Duke might be en route to the London Clinic for up to two weeks after the party.
Garden parties always follow a strict format, and this one was no different. At 4pm, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh appeared through the doors on to the West Terrace with the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The tea tent emptied, the crowds ground to a standstill and all 8,000 guests stood to attention for the national anthem.
Then the royal team divided into different ‘lanes’ through the crowds. For a full hour, the Queen, the duke, and the Wessexes made snail-like progress through the crowd, with all eager for a handshake and a chat.
Yesterday, as usual, the duke was accompanied by his private secretary, Brigadier Archie Miller-Bakewell, as he chatted to dozens of guests, among them a little group from the British Association of Dairy Farmers and a couple of alumni from his old Scottish school, Gordonstoun.
As garrulous as ever, the duke worked his way down the entire lane but even then there was no respite.
While many guests sought a seat and shelter, the Queen and the duke were then ushered into the Royal Tent. Here, they remained on their feet for another 40 minutes, working their way through a VIP crowd.
Finally, at 5.45, the duke escorted the Queen back through the gardens. As always, they paused to chat to the guests in wheelchairs who are always offered pride of place alongside the homeward path by the Palace swimming pool.
Then the crowds slowly enjoyed one last meander round the gardens in the evening breeze.
It might be a charming Edwardian idyll for the 8,000 guests but it is always hard work for the hosts. And the largest garden party of the season is yet to come next month – for up to 10,000 at Holyroodhouse.
Let’s hope the duke, who will be 92 at the time of this grand garden party, will be back into good health and doing what he does best- supporting the Queen as she serves her nation with pride.
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