Party at the palace

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Party at the palace

Everyone wants to go to a party to which they are not invited, and only a lucky few get invited to the Queen’s Garden Parties.

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

The Queen hosts three Garden Parties a year at Buckingham Palace, and one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland, with 8,000 guests at each. Historically, these took the place of presentation parties attended by debutantes, and have evolved into a way of recognising and rewarding public service. There’s a lot more to it than buttering a few bridge rolls and mowing the lawn. Preparations in the gardens begin months in advance, to ensure they look their royal best before the first party in May. The palace gates open at 3pm and the party officially begins when the Queen, accompanied by other members of the royal family, enters the garden at 4pm. The National Anthem is then played by one of the two military bands present. Around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake are consumed at each party. Male guests wear morning dress or lounge suits, while women wear day dress, usually with hats or fascinators. This year the Queen was unable to attend the first party (wise lady avoided a rain-soaked day!) but Charles, Camilla and other royals were in attendance.


Following retirement, my husband became a guide at Buckingham Palace, the Garden and Clarence House. After a few years we were eligible to attend Garden Parties, which, along with Trooping of the Colour and the State Opening of Parliament, became the highlights of our summers. We felt truly honoured to chat with such a variety of people being honoured for their charitable work or working for the Establishment. One year we stood chatting to Chief Rabbi Mirvis; it was always heart-warming to see our community so well represented. One year Alan took me on a garden tour explaining the planting of a particular tree or the significance of a summer house. By the end we had a following with visitors listening avidly! The tea itself is housed in a huge marquee with about 10 stations. It is very plentiful with perfectly cut sandwiches with a variety of fillings, such as coronation chicken, smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels, canapés with plenty of vegetarian options, delectable pastries and of course scones with clotted cream – the perfect size to pop straight into your mouth. Tea, coffee and cold drinks are served on a special plate to hold your drink and food. There is also plenty of ice cream to enjoy throughout the afternoon. Like at any good Jewish function, there are plenty of opportunities for refills! Queuing for tea provides an opportunity to chat to people and year we had a great conversation with an Earl (who shall remain nameless) whose moustache definitely twitched when I mentioned that I worked for a Jewish charity (Norwood). Suzanne Lion

During my varied teaching career I was nominated to represent Manchester Education Committee at a garden party in 1971. My wife Barbara and I were met at the palace gates by the royal footmen, checked by security, and then escorted through the palace into the beautiful gardens. It was an awe-inspiring moment for us to see what lay behind the building. The lawn lay spread out in front of us, the plants and flowers were magnificent and the atmosphere was wonderful. When the Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, Princess Alice, Princess Anne and other members of the royal family, arrived, the excitement rose. The royal party spent time touring the area, occasionally stopping to be presented to members of the public, civic dignitaries, ambassadors and others. It was a beautiful summer’s day and refreshments comprising cucumber sandwiches, small pastries and cups of tea were available in a long marquee. We could not believe how lucky we were to be part of such a gathering and we marvelled at the translucent and beautiful complexion of a Queen we had only ever seen in the media. It was a magnificent experience that still remember more than 50 years later. Russell Hertzog


In 2016 my husband Michael was re-elected for a third term as a local councillor (Brent) and we were invited to the Queen’s Garden Party. When we entered the palace under the famous balcony, I asked my husband to pinch me as I couldn’t believe the girl from Palmers Green was at Buckingham Palace. We had fun spotting the other Red Sea pedestrians. I got chatting to a lady whose grandson was in the same year as my daughter at JFS – it’s a Jewish small world even at Buckingham Palace! To see the Queen in real life was incredible – we were just enraptured. I will never forget it for the rest of my life. Alison Maurice

Two years ago I was awarded a BEM for voluntary services in Barnet and I was invited to a garden party but it was cancelled due to Covid; two years later, in 2022, I got my chance. It was probably the wettest garden party ever, but umbrellas and smiles were out in full force. The magnificently pruned gardens and handsome buildings were the perfect backdrop to a delicious tea served in a marquee. There were dainty finger sandwiches catering for all tastes, buttery pastry tarts with mango purée, tiny chocolate gateau squares with the royal insignia, miniature raspberry cream cakes, Victoria sponge and some thumbnail-sized smoked salmon bagels… how kind of them to do that specially! Two different military bands were playing throughout. Charles and Camilla came out to talk to people in the crowd, before being escorted to take tea in the royal tent. Everybody was there for a reason that involved generosity of spirit and it was a joyful atmosphere. Kate Fulton

My late husband Henry and I were invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in May 2015. We had both been President of the United Hebrew Congregation of Newcastle upon Tyne and had held many other notable community positions. Henry was in a wheelchair, which meant we received a parking pass. We had been told to bypass the long queue waiting for admission and as we went through the gate a young army cadet came to take us into the garden. He found us a table and a delightful member of staff immediately brought us tea and led me to the buffet. There were various small sandwiches, including smoked salmon, and lots of tiny cakes, some of which had gold-iced logos. The Royal Party came onto the lawns with the band playing the National Anthem. They separated and went around the crowds. They greeted wheelchair users on the way out. The Queen and Prince Philip led the line and spoke to all of us – just a few words, but very kind and welcoming. Whenever Philip saw a retired serviceman with medals, he made a point of having a personal chat. They were followed by Prince Andrew, who asked if it was tricky pushing the wheelchair. I replied that the gravel was difficult, and he laughed and said the new path was still being laid so we should come back next year! The Duke of Kent followed, then Princess Alexandra, who looked amazing. She shook hands with every wheelchair user and the carers, and said how glad she was that the weather had been kind and she hoped we’d had a good time. The cadet reappeared and pushed Henry out to our car. We had a wonderful experience and the arrangements for disabled people were fantastic.  Adrienne Ross

The day I went to the Queen’s Garden Party is definitely in my top 10 of best days ever! I was invited in 2014 with my business partner for our work training fundraisers for the British Red Cross.. I wore the dress and fascinator I had for my second son’s barmitzvah with matching heels, which were a big mistake because they kept sinking into the grass! The atmosphere was truly joyous and not at all stuffy. Everyone is so delighted to be there. You’re not supposed to take pics (I did because I’m a rule breaker) and when you do, someone appears out of nowhere and very charmingly asks you not to. My response was to apologise profusely, move to another area of the grounds and resume taking pics. The grounds are huge but not overly-manicured -just beautifully maintained like a large park. In many ways it’s like a Jewish do – lots of food and no booze. The afternoon tea was dainty and delicious and there was plenty of it. I was all ready to claim an area in the food tent, Shabbat kiddush-style and elbow others out of the way, but there was no need and you are welcome to go back for seconds and thirds, which of course I did. Sandwiches, cakes, tea and cold drinks and – later – ice creams. A must-visit are the portaloos – they are so grand! When the royals arrive (for us it was Charles and Camilla), a hush falls over the crowd and the National Anthem strikes up. It is so atmospheric – I felt quite emotional. Charles has great presence and is much better looking in real life! We didn’t get to meet him but I did get a sneaky pic. By 5.30 it’s all over, but you have to take your high somewhere, so we went to a bar with friends and partied on into the evening – and I kept my fascinator on the entire time. Helena Sharpstone

About 20 years ago we lived next door to Lord Graham of Edmonton who was at the time the Labour Chief Whip. He was a regular guest at the Garden Parties but one year his wife was ill and he asked us if we would like to go in his place. He didn’t seem to think there would be a problem with security or the fact that we would be masquerading as Lord and Lady Graham. Obviously we jumped at the chance! We received a package which contained all the information we needed with regard to dress code, phones and photographs, timings, behaviour and the order of the day. Six months previously my nephew had been barmitzvah, so I had a beautiful suit with matching hat, bag and shoes that were just perfect! It was the most glorious day in early June. I remember walking in through a side gate and looking at all the tourists standing at the railings watching us going into Buckingham Palace. I was thinking ‘I must always remember this moment because I am NEVER going to be inside Buckingham Palace looking out ever again! We walked through a reception hallway, which had a magnificent staircase and a huge grand piano that I believe Elton John played at the last Jubilee celebrations, then through a set of French doors and down the steps leading to the gardens. There were a great many people there, but the gardens are very extensive so it wasn’t crowded. There was an enormous marquee where the tea was to be served and over on the other side of the lawns was a roped off area and another marquee where the Royal Family have their tea. Each garden party has a specific theme – ours was young people who had done something worthwhile or extraordinary and about 20 are specifically invited to meet the Queen. These individuals are lined up facing each other along the lawn at the bottom of the steps and at precisely 4pm the French doors open and the royal family come down the steps, led by the Queen. An equerry introduces the chosen candidates to Her Majesty down one side and Prince Philip met the others lined up on the opposite side. They had a brief chat about their achievements and moved on to the next one. After that the Royal Family went to their marquee for tea and the rest of the crowd went into the other marquee and lined up for the afternoon tea. It’s very traditional with finger sandwiches, small cakes and scones with jam and cream. Afterwards everyone mingled and chatted. There were several famous faces – I met Gareth Gates and his father, and at around five o’clock Tony Blair came down the steps and wandered over to talk to us. It was a truly fantastic day and a magical experience of which we had never expected to be a part. Shelley Posner

We were invited in 2019 because my husband William was the chair of the Parish Council in Shenley. Dress, hat, shoes and bag purchased, morning suit hired and we were ready . We were within touching distance of the Queen, and also William, Kate, Edward and several other royals. The weather could not have been more perfect and it is extremely well organised. The Queen has a special Fortnum & Mason Garden Party brew, and the food was amazing. All the staff, including the officious-looking Beefeaters, are so welcoming. That said, security is tight and you can see snipers on the roof of the palace. The beautiful embossed invitation has directions of how to enter. The options were either through two of the garden gates (obviously not like my garden gate or yours) or through the gate at the front of the palace, which requires walking through the palace to the back.  Doh! Who would use a garden gate when you can walk through the palace? That entry through the front of the palace, into the courtyard where you see carriages on special occasions, through the door that is used by the royals, is so special, and being directed through private quarters through the palace and entering via the steps at the back beats the garden gate hands down! As well as the lovely food (including lots of smoked salmon) and drinks (no alcohol), they come round with ice cream. There were two brass bands (each on a different bandstand) and we sat looking at the lake, listening to the beautiful music whilst studying the swans. It was just the most surreal experience. Natalie Susman

I come from a family who are great royalists (my bubba and zeida purchased their first television for the Queen’s coronation). Despite horrendous weather with somewhat biblical rain (needless to say I got ‘royally’ soaked) being at the Queen’s Garden party this year representing the Jewish Community was incredible – like an out of body experience! I was very lucky that I managed to speak to Prince Charles and Camilla, who were both so gracious, welcoming and hospitable. We spoke about the Jewish Community. I wore a blue lounge suit that I had been saving for this occasion! The reception tea ‘kiddush’ looked stunning but bring strictly kosher I couldn’t eat anything; I did, however, enjoy the most delicious apple juice from the apples of Sandringham. I met people from all walks of life…. military, RAF, public servants,. charity and welfare organisations. Good people from our society who inspired me so much with their commitment to performing good and noble deeds for this country and abroad. An occasion I will forever treasure. Rabbi Alby Chait

In 2018, my dad Malcolm was invited in recognition of his services to charity and I was lucky enough to be his plus one. We queued via the main entrance, to have the best experience of entering the palace, and after a couple of efficient security checks we were ushered through a vast entrance hall, where we were met with the most spectacular view of the glorious lawns of the west terrace. We were extremely lucky with the weather, and we chatted to some other invitees including one of the Queen’s chaplains, who suggested grabbing a refreshing lemon squash before the tea tents opened. My dad is the ultimate squash connoisseur and declared it ‘very weak and pishy’, but we drank it anyway! There was a military band under a gazebo playing everything from Star Wars to James Bond. At the tea tent, having read on online forums that the advice was to ‘pile it high’, we were a little more restrained but indulged all the same. Soon, the Yeomen were out in force and the crowds parted to form a pathway for Prince Charles and Camilla, who chatted to guests and then entered the royal tea tent. We took this opportunity to go for a leisurely wander around the lake and through the stunning rose garden. The National Anthem played out as the royal party left and while many attendees stayed for an extra fill of tea, we decided to leave on a royal high. Debbie Collins

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