Royal Garden Party

Buckingham Palace Garden Party Invitation

Tea With The Queen

One day I returned home from work to find a very posh envelope among the usual bills and circulars that had been delivered that morning.  It was very classy indeed, stiff as card, ivory white with a smooth velour texture and certainly of a much higher quality than I am generally used to receiving.  On the front were the words the ‘Office of the Lord Chamberlain’ and the printed franking machine mark in the top right hand corner said ‘Buckingham Palace, London’.

Now, I don’t receive mail from Buckingham Palace everyday so I was naturally intrigued.

Inside the envelope there was even more special stationery and an expensive invitation card from the Lord Chamberlain himself stating that he has been commanded by her Majesty to invite me and a guest to a Royal garden party at the Palace.   Commanded no less!  The Lord Chamberlain is one of the chief officers of the Royal Household, he is a peer of the Realm and a Privy Councillor and is the chief functionary of the court who is generally responsible for organising all court functions.  The current Lord Chamberlain is William Peel, who has held the position since October 2006 and he is a very important man indeed.

Queen-garden-party1--a

How to get an Invitation to a Royal Garden Party…

Ordinary people like me don’t get letters from the Lord Chamberlain everyday and let’s make this absolutely clear, these invitations aren’t just handed out to any old riff-raff.  Getting an invite to Buckingham Palace isn’t easy because individuals cannot simply apply for an invitation to a garden party because nominations are made through Lord Lieutenants, and organisations such as the Civil Service, Armed Services, Diplomatic Corps, charities and societies and people are only allowed to attend one tea party in their lifetime.

What to wear to a Royal Garden Party…

As well as the invitation there was also information on dress code, suits, day dresses and hats, uniforms, but no medals and I took this to include my Boy Scout and cycling proficiency badges.  No cameras or mobile phones and useful security information and tips on how best to enjoy the day.

royal-garden-party

The tradition of throwing open the royal residences dates back to the 1860s, when Queen Victoria held what were then known as afternoon ‘breakfasts’.  It has carried on ever since and during the present Queen’s reign, over a million people have attended garden parties at either Buckingham Palace or at the Palace of Holyrood House, which is her official residence in Scotland.

We travelled down to London by train on the previous evening and stayed at a nice hotel in Bayswater called the Ambassadors that I paid for using my Airmiles points.  We had a pleasant evening out and something to eat in the hotel’s Italian restaurant and a comfortable night and a really excellent breakfast in the morning.

I had no idea that Sally had never properly been to London before so we took the underground to Westminster and quickly did the sights.  The Catholic Westminster Cathedral was very good and free but the Protestant Westminster Abbey was £12 so we just looked at the outside and concluded that Roman Catholicism is better value for money.

Next we walked down Whitehall and craned our necks through the security railings into Downing Street, went into Horseguards Parade and finished at Trafalgar Square and then returned to the hotel and changed and prepared for the big event.  Attending a Royal tea party isn’t cheap of course because this little outing cost me a new outfit for Sally, but it was worth it and she looked fabulous in her new dress and hat.

Visiting Buckingham Palace…

Dressed in our finest clothes and looking our best it didn’t seem appropriate to travel to the Palace by underground train so we ordered a cab and drove through the sights of central London to the Palace and the queue of people waiting to get past security and into the gardens.   Like most guests, I imagine, I am proud to boast that I’ve had tea with the queen but I should point out that there were another 7,999 other people there as well.  With all of the security checks to go through, each guest producing a passport and one other form of identity this was quite a slow process, but the weather was fine and everyone was in good humour as we lined up and waited our turn to be admitted.

The Palace was originally known as Buckingham House and was a large town house built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 and acquired by King George III in 1761.  It was enlarged over the next seventy-five years and Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.  Like most people I have stood outside it and gawked through the railings but I have never before been inside.

royal garden party

To get to the gardens we had to pass through the Palace itself and once through and inside the garden it was a wonderful experience and I imagine that tea with the queen today looked very much the same as it would have one hundred and fifty years ago; men in tails and top hats, women in floral dresses and elaborate hats and it reminded me of a scene from a nineteenth century painting of a sophisticated social event.  And so many military uniforms that it was almost like being in an episode of Foyle’s War!

The eight-thousand guests are all vetted of course before the event because the Queen doesn’t want any undesirable republicans or out-spoken anti-monarchists wandering around her back garden spreading sedition and the place was full of people enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.  I doubt if Jeremy Corbyn will ever get an invite.

Buckingham Palace Gardens…

The magnificent gardens sit on forty-two acres in the heart of central London and walking outside behind the Palace the vast garden is a revelation because it is festive and filled with colour and the lake at its centrepiece features weeping willow branches gently grazing the water and ducks flying free.  What is most noticeable is that it is peaceful and serene, except for the chatter of eight thousand people of course, because as if by magic the sounds of the city do not intrude and it is hard to believe this is in the centre of the busy city.  The gardens are immaculate and goodness knows what the head gardener makes of all these people stampeding over his manicured lawns and falling into his flowerbeds.  I expect they give him the day off so that he doesn’t get too upset.

Actually I don’t think the Queen puts the garden to best use because there is enough room there to have a nice nine-hole par three golf course and I am surprised that Prince Andrew has had something to say about that.

Sandwiches and Cake at Buckingham Palace…

The food tents were open for business now and this seemed an opportune moment to make an early dash for the guest’s tea tent to be among the first to enjoy the hospitality.  Actually there was no need to rush because there was plenty of food to go round and the tables looked pristine and immaculate.  I especially liked the little chocolates decorated with the queen’s crown and I was tempted to put a couple in my pocket as souvenirs but the sun was out now and they would have surely melted and made an awful mess of my suit jacket.

At a typical tea party, the kitchens prepare, and the guests consume, more than twenty-seven thousand cups of Twining’s ‘garden party’ tea, as well as more than twenty-thousand carefully trimmed sandwiches (crusts are far too common) and a similar number of delicious slices of cake, so there is plenty for everyone and enough left over to give the ducks a treat as well.

The plates were a cunning design with a place for the tea-cup and just about enough room for a couple of sandwiches and two slices of cake which prevented anyone taking too much food.  Despite this however the Royal Household estimates that each guest eats on average fourteen portions of sandwich and cake.

Cakes at Royal Garden Party

After a short wait the band struck up “God Save the Queen” and her Majesty, dressed immaculately in a pale blue floral print two-piece and matching hat appeared on the front steps with Prince Philip and various others, standing motionless in front of the huge crowd.  As the music died down there was a spontaneous ripple of polite applause and the Royal party made their way past the Tudor Red Beefeaters separately into the gardens and along the double lines of guests.

An audience with the Queen…

Most people don’t get close enough to the Queen to meet her, but luckily we choose the right line and we did get a chance to see her up close as she walked along the lines of smiling people stopping every now and again to shake hands and chat with specially selected guests and one in particular who stood and chatted to her barely two metres away from us.

With all the queuing up and pushing and shoving to see the Queen the afternoon passed unexpectedly quickly.  As the plates were quite small this meant we had to make two visits to the tea tent and had to go through the whole lining up process again.  Eventually there was a flurry of activity around the Royal tent and her Majesty was on the move again coming back outside and walking ponderously back towards the Palace stopping every so often to shake a hand here or have a word there and eventually Prince Philip began to lag behind as he was much more prepared to enter longer conversations.  Back at the top of the steps and outside the Palace back door the band once more played the National Anthem and they were gone.

I hadn’t really known what to expect from an invitation to a Royal tea party and although I hadn’t really met the Queen of course I really rather enjoyed it in a snobbish sort of way.  We joined the crowds making for the exits and once outside travelled back to the hotel to collect our bags and make for the station and the train journey home at the end of an excellent day.

See also https://apetcher.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/the-rain-of-queen-elizabeth/

http://cllrwellbelove.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/buckinghampalacegardenparty/

 Queen Elizabeth

What to wear to a Royal Garden Party…

For men this is relatively straight forward.  If you are a serving member of the armed forces then wear your uniform but make sure you take off the medals – apparently the Queen is not that impressed with a Victoria Cross dangling from the left breast pocket.  If you are not a soldier or a sailor then just wear a smart suit.

For a lady guest, wear a nice, but expensive, summer dress but make sure this covers up any unsightly tattoos, I don’t imagine that HRH approves of Indian chiefs or snarling skull body art.  A hat is a good idea but if it is rainy then just downsize to a fascinator or something that won’t blow away because chasing a hat across Buckingham Palace lawns is undignified.

Always take an umbrella just in case!

 Palace Invite 3

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92 responses to “Royal Garden Party

  1. Dear Mr. Petcher,
    I am recently doing some research on “afternoon tea” for a small lecture of its history. When i browse “royal tea party” on the net it leads me to your article. IT IS FACSINATING! I love the whole piece and the pictures, thank you so much for sharing. Hope more treasurable adventures will come to you in the future.
    Best wishes to you and your family in 2010!
    Janice Chow
    from Hong Kong
    11 Mar 2010

    Like

  2. I am from India and the Royal Family fascinates me. I
    am monarchist althought I may not be a citizen.
    They have got centuries of history behind them and I
    hope Britain remains a Kingdom forever.

    I would love to meet Her Majesty in person when I visit
    England so I congratulate you for being one of the
    lucky few.

    Like

    • Hi Abhijeet, I guess sometimes we undervalue the Royal Family and don’t appreciate them quite as much as we should. It was certainly a special day to be allowed to wander about their back garden! Andrew

      Like

  3. Hi Andrew,
    Thank you for writing this article. I found it very interesting and informative. My husband and I are going to Holyrood Palace in July as my son is being presented with his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. I think I will need at least a month to break the news to my husband that this will mean a new outfit for all of us!! Regards, Carol

    Like

  4. This is such a helpful record of your day. I have been invited to one soon and am still trying to get an idea of what to wear and what it will be like, so I was really pleased to read this account.

    Like

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  7. Sensational. My invitation is coming. I am sure of it!

    Like

  8. Wow! An unexpected blog. Why were you invited to Buck Pal? It sounds great, and thanks for revealing to the world what actually goes on during these tea parties!

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    • Hi Charles, thanks for the comment. How did I get an invite? Well, I’d like to say it was because I had achieved something special, invented something useful or I had done something worthwhile but the truth is that I worked for a local authority and every year every local authority mayor/leader receives 4 invites to give to others as he pleases and this just happened to be my year! Andrew

      Like

  9. Beautiful article Andrew,
    I have also visited the gates at Buckingham Palace on a few occasions and marveled at the grandeur; it would have been fabulous to be invited in to have tea with the Queen, but your narrative made me feel as if I was there with you. What a great honor!

    Like

  10. How very exciting. I have been watching the Queens Jubilee and as an American I am fasinated with the Royal Family and love all the pomp and circumstances. It was so wondeful to read your account of attending the Queens Garden Party. A memory that will last forever. I am glad you documented it. Thank you so much for sharing.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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  11. Thank you Andrew for your account of the Queens Garden Party. My Partner as an elected member has been nominated to attend this year. Without your article I would not have known the protocol. once again thank you for this incite into the day I can expect.

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  12. great article to describe this special event to which a lucky few are invited!

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  13. I loved this look at the “Innermost Ring” of an old old Culture!!!!
    Never expect to be there myself, so I really relished every word and every photo. From the former Colonies, Thanks, Andrew!

    Like

  14. I’m not much of a royals follower in general but I am very much a Queen Elizabeth admirer. Since this is as close as I’ll ever get to a Buckingham Palace garden party, thank you for the thorough and interesting account.

    Like

  15. What fun! I enjoyed reading about it.

    janet

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  16. How delightful for you. The invitation alone would make me swoon. Fabulous post, Andrew.

    Like

  17. I found an explanation in your comments, because I was very rudely going to ask “why you?” I’m a former Civil Servant too and can remember one of our ladies receiving the invite, and being bemused as to what I’d done wrong. (actually I thought I just wasn’t old and decrepit enough- I’d qualify now!) Thanks for the enlightenment Andrew. 🙂

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    • Well, perhaps you will get an invite for services to travelling.
      I’d like to say mine was for doing something important but it was just about being in the right place at the right time – I think I was in the chief’s office when the mail was being opened!

      Like

  18. This is one of the best WPC-postings I’ve read. Getting a glimpse of something I will never experience myself is just so fascinating. P.S. I would have totally nicked some of those chocolates. Well made chocolate doesnt’ melt that easily.

    Like

  19. Thanks, I appreciate that!

    Like

  20. Why viewers still use to read news papers when in this technological globe everything is presented on net?

    Like

  21. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post!
    It’s the little changes that make the largest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

    Like

  22. Wonderful, what a weblog it is! This website provides valuable
    information to us, keep it up.

    Like

  23. Andrew you are a lucky duck! Thanks for sharing this and giving us the inside look.

    Like

  24. Man, that’s awesome.

    Like

  25. Posh geezer, eh?
    Nice post Andrew.

    Like

  26. I think these Tea parties at Buckingham Palace are fantastic! And I can understand why you felt good about being there – it’s so good for the soul to feel privileged from time to time – you have earned it, Andrew!

    Like

  27. Loved the post. Loved reading the comments. That’s one experience I’m really confident I’ll never get to share!! 🙂

    Like

  28. Thank you for recently visiting my blog. I found your above article on your experience at the royal tea party very interesting. It was I’m sure an unforgettable, exciting experience. What part of England are you from?

    Like

  29. Enjoyed your column. We are impressed with your story line. It is a very special experience for you to have enjoyed and witnessed with a guest. We have been told we have invitations ready for the July 1, 2014 royal tea party at Holyroodhouse. My husband and I were surprised to read that 8,000 guests were at the Palace when you were invited. Hopefully not that many in Scotland. We live in Canada, however my husband was born in Birmingham, with family moving with him to W-s-m after College, some in Staffs, some in Bristol, and so forth. He was fortunate to receive 2 Duke of Edinburgh awards from Prince Philip and never thought he would get an invitation to a garden tea party. We hoped to take a pic or two.

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  30. Lucky you and wife Andrew. What a memorable occasion and one you have given the rest of us commoners a glimpse at. I would love it to attend.

    Like

  31. How cool – I myself, an unschooled colonial, am but three steps away from the Queen. A British poet teaches at the small university here in Silver City New Mexico USA (http://www.swwordfiesta.org/about/our-team/#jjwilson). I volunteered at a local event and met him (step one). He won some sort of prize in Great Briton and was presented his award by Prince Philip (step 2, and BTW he says he had to rent a morning coat, was impressed by the artwork in whatever palace was the award venue, and that the Prince was quite gracious)… and of course the Prince ties to the Queen (step 3). 🙂

    Like

  32. We attended one of these garden parties at Buckingham Palace while we were living in England. Your post brought back memories of this special event. I especially enjoyed all the phtotos. Going to the Queen’s place for tea is quite the experience!

    Like

  33. That’s a wonderful experience. You got to experience a true tradition.

    Like

  34. Thanks to my father who shared with me on the topic of this blog, this blog is really amazing.

    Like

  35. Gail Y. Bennett

    This is such a delightful post. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

  36. What a great experience!

    Like

  37. Hey I am so excited I found your blog page, I really found you by mistake,
    while I was looking on Askjeeve for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a fantastic post and a all round enjoyable
    blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time
    to read it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also added
    your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read
    more, Please do keep up the fantastic work.

    Like

  38. Oh, that’s so classy! I know only one person from my country who was at a reception in Buckingham palace (i mean, my own friend, not the country officials ;)). As someone who worked for the state protocol for over a decade, you can imagine that i am utterly impressed, thank you for sharing!

    Like

  39. Well I guess I should treat you with more moral respect!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Thank you for sharing Andrew! I am in love with London and the Royal Family. I am fascinated by the history and lifestyle. I appreciate the journey into one of the Queen’s tea party. Great read!!

    Like

  41. A wonderful account of your afternoon at the palace, thanks for sharing.
    My daughter had the pleasure to be visited by Lady Diana while she was in hospital. It was Diana’s birthday and my daughter had prepared a large banner for her birthday. It attracted a lot of attention and she ended up with photographs of her and Diana in all the national papers and even “Hello” magazine. Needless to say she was delighted.

    Like

  42. I confess, after reading your post this morning, my brain pronounced “Bakingham Palace” each time. Apparently the bake-off resulted in copious cakes for the guests!

    This is just brilliant. I am delighted that you had the chance to have Tea with the Queen, albeit with a handful of others. How lovely that she serves Twinings. I’ll feel that much more special next time I choose it for my tea.

    Like

  43. Andrew, love English social events (well, from reading about and watching and television). I certainly enjoyed your synopsis of that heavenly afternoon. Oh, I adore those desserts! Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers!
    P.S. By the way, thank you for taking the time to check out my blog.

    Like

  44. Wow – such an honour it must be to be invited to the Queens Tea Party. Snobbish for sure – but I would have loved it! 🙂 Too bad you weren’t allowed to grab any photos, I would have loved to see them!

    Like

  45. I absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to
    be just what I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers to write
    content in your case? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating
    on many of the subjects you write relatd to here.

    Again, awesome weblog!

    Like

  46. Love this post…amusing and interesting.

    Like

  47. Hi Andrew, first of all I want to thank you for the follow which led me to your blog. Then, wow, lucky you!!! Not many can match this post 😊 Thank you for sharing it.

    Like

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  50. Funny and delicious (the cakes looked so good).

    Like

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  53. Admirable tradition of inviting ordinary folks to rub shoulders with the monarchy.

    Like

  54. Karen Blakesley

    Andrew, we are so excited as my husband and I are guest tomorrow. Shame about the weather forecast. Thank you for your article, it helped me know what to expect.

    Like

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