From the moment you step through the Buckingham Palace gates and join the crowds on the lawn you know you’re at the start of a very special experience. With ladies and gents in their finest and a sea of top hats and fascinators in every direction, there’s a palpable air of excitement.
The gates open at 3 and guests were invited to stroll through private gardens usually only seen by members of the Royal Family and their staff. With roses and bluebells in bloom there were no shortage of picture-perfect corners and views which eager guests took full advantage of. Though cameras were once forbidden from Garden Parties the Royals have clearly recognised the futility of trying to make people leave their phones at home and so only asked that electronics were kept ‘at a polite distance’ once the royals arrived.
Two military brass bands provided musical entertainment and many exclamations of ‘can you believe this weather?’ were heard. We got incredibly lucky with the cold, wet rain of Monday having given way to warm sunshine, just in time for the first Garden Party of the season.
Tea was served at 3:30 pm and we joined the queue for our share of the sandwiches and cakes which we piled onto a plate specially designed to hold our tea cup at one end allowing a free hand to enjoy the nibbles. The sandwiches included British classics such as cucumber, egg, ham and smoked salmon on cream cheese, and the desserts included carrot cake, strawberry tarts, mini scones with cream and jam, and a chocolate mousse cake flourished with a crown. For those not interested in tea there was iced coffee, lemonade and apple juice from the crown estates.
As 4 pm approached, crowds began to gather near the palace steps, ready for The Queen’s arrival. The mood was friendly (aside from the very focused Yeomen Warders who were determined that not a toe of the crowd be out of place…and threatened to remove any that were!) as everyone got in place for the perfect view of the royals who arrived right on time to the sounds of the national anthem. Though Prince Charles was away on an engagement there was an incredible royal turnout with the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Princess Royal, the Earl of Wessex, Princess Beatrice of York, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, and Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent all there to support Her Majesty.
The Queen and Prince Philip led the way down the steps and – to my excitement – headed right towards where I was standing to have a chat with a group of people just ahead of me. Looking splendid in pale pink, The Queen was smiling broadly and in no time at all Prince Philip had the crowd in stitches with his famous dry wit which was as sharp as ever. As this year’s Garden Parties will be the last he attends in an official capacity I felt so lucky to have had the chance to see him in his element.
As The Queen and Duke moved down the ‘lane’ – the way they organise the crowds to ensure the Royals can meet a wide variety of people – I went in search of the rest of the royals. Princess Beatrice was happily chatting to a group near the tea tent and I only had to follow the crowd to find the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who had headed further out onto the lawn. Kate was animatedly speaking to a group of people and think I must have been standing directly next to Rebecca English from The Daily Mail without realising it as we both have the exact same photo of the back of Kate’s gorgeous coat – which is a mint green when you see it in person, not the ‘ice blue’ it photographs as!
William was a bit further down the line but the crowds surrounding the Cambridges was a bit too dense so I took the opportunity to grab another tea – a special Garden party blend from Fortnum & Mason – and watch the action from further back. At that point I stumbled on a plethora of royals as Princess Anne, Prince Edward and the Kents were mingling with the crowds rather than officially occupying a ‘lane’.
After tea I came across Kate again when she was almost at the Royal tea tent and was delighted to see her speaking kindly to an elderly woman in a wheelchair who was joined by her granddaughter. I heard Kate say ‘I wish my grandmothers were still here so we could enjoy special occasions like this together. I hope you both have a wonderful time and truly enjoy the day.’
Once the Royals had all made it into the Royal tea tent they had the opportunity to help themselves to tea and cakes while meeting with extra special guests. We decided it was a bit too zoo-like to stand staring across the grass at the Royals in the tent and so had a wander and a few more nibbles, which were disappearing very quickly at this point in the day.
When the Royals were ready to leave around 5:30pm, the ushers organised a line from the tea tent to the corner of Buckingham Palace and everyone once again crowded together for one last glimpse of The Queen. As always and to everyone’s delight, Kate lagged behind the group, taking the opportunity to speak with as many people as she could before heading off.
Following the Royals’ departure, we took one last stroll around the garden before exiting through the palace (stopping for photos in the courtyard, of course!) and heading home, chatting happily about the highlights of the day. It was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I’ll never forget!