The Buckingham Palace Garden Party is a sight to behold for any guest lucky enough to have an invitation to attend, filled with grand military bands and afternoon tea and cakes, the likes of which anyone would be thrilled to have served in one of London’s luxurious hotels .
And with one or more Royal Family members in attendance, these special events, organized to honor particular charity members and those celebrating OBEs and MBEs and more, are unforgettable.
But what really happens at the ultra-exclusive parties, and how did these years’ differ without the Queen herself there to host?
I was lucky enough to attend as a plus one during the third and final Garden Party at Buckingham Palace last month.
Here’s everything I discovered from a particularly memorable afternoon packed with rain showers, close-up Royal sightings of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the most delicious falafel wraps you could ever sink your teeth into.
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As you would imagine, the police and various security guards ensured the smooth running of the day from the get-go, as we were greeted by a savvy assistant straight out of Green Park tube station in London.
Instantly spotted in our fancy day dress, hats and suits, we were directed through Hyde Park, where there were then strict identification checks.
The tightly-run operation didn’t take long to relax however, as while the experience of being permitted entry through the palace’s front gates is a surreal one – being on the “other side” is an instant journey to feeling like a VIP.
Her Majesty’s gardens are utterly stunning, packed with willow trees and an array of flora and fauna overlooking the lake, which wraps around the grounds.
The main lawn itself was laid-out simply, but the sight of the palace towering above captivated everyone’s attention as they filtered through the gates, and one of the military bands began to play.
Housed under awnings to shelter from the impending showers, musicians filled the atmosphere for the afternoon with dulcet notes and classical music.
There are two ways to experience the Garden Party. If you were a royal fanatic like me, you could queue at the front of the lanes already beginning to form ready to snap away when the family members arrived.
If not quite so obsessed with the celebrity of it all, an opportunity to drink in the majestic palace, centuries of history, and decadent teas was truly enough to keep anyone entertained.
What’s more, there’s plenty of chances to star-spot, as even Emmerdale icon Eric Pollard (Chris Chittell) was strolling around in his morning suit during my visit.
I opted for a bit of both, standing in the pouring rain ready for the grand arrival when it was whispered by the caterers that I ought to take note of the best queue times as “Will and Kate are here today”.
The reveal was made all the more exciting by the fact guests aren’t informed which Royals to expect in advance.
Royal fans will also be pleased to know that Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are truly as kind and charismatic as they seem in real life.
The National Anthem playing was a particularly poignant moment, especially as the Queen bowed out of the Garden Parties this year in favor of saving her strength for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
William, 39, Kate, 40, Princess Beatrice, 33, Prince Edward, 58, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, 57, all appeared in solidarity on the terrace steps at 4pm on the dot, and as the anthem dissipated, all five royals filtered out into the pre-arranged lines for their walk-throughs.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the day, was witnessing the pure artistry of the working royals doing just that, working.
Accompanied by a flutter of aides, who cleverly blended in with the rest of the guests at all times, the dynamic duo moved effortlessly between their chosen guests.
Future King William was heard chatting about everything from his love of football, to praising the guests for their important work in each sector.
With little but a brief mention of names, roles and charities from their aides before meetings, the Duke and Duchess glided in and out happily, and surprised everyone with just how long they took to speak to each guest personally.
Even dressed in the most beautiful sage green chiffon dress for the day, Kate simply popped up her umbrella when an enormous downpour suddenly took over the palace gardens.
And when the sunshine beamed back out through the clouds, the royal was all smiles as she returned to showing off her stunning feather hat, sweetly placing an arm on one of the elderly guests she had the pleasure of speaking to.
Interestingly, the Royals themselves were given a separate Tea Tent to dine and sip English Breakfast in, which banned entry from the guests, but while it was listed in the program that tea would take place from 4.30pm, William and Kate in particular prioritised their chats so much that they barely had any time to relax.
The afternoon tea itself was truly decadent, although those expecting to hear of the Queen’s beloved “cucumber sandwiches” would be sorely disappointed.
Instead, guests were served an array of tomato and ham, egg and cress, and salmon sandwiches.
Vegetarians then had the option between tucking into falafel wraps or feta wraps, and the sweets were simply out of this world.
Guests were able to pile their plates with as many mini scones slathered in blackcurrant jam and cream as they could hope for, all laid out on tablettops covered in pristine white cloths, and there were passionfruit puddings, Bakewell tarts, fruit cake slices and chocolate tortes galore.
While invitees were only able to quench their thirst on apple juice and cups of tea (no coffee or orange juice for the Royal Family it seemed), the most interesting omission seemed to be that of any.
While it’s customary for a glass of Prosecco or champagne to be served with any hotel afternoon tea, it appeared Buckingham Palace officials were keen to keep things as civilized as possible at all times.
Even the toilet facilities were ultra posh (though the queues were heinous), with a view across the lake, constantly maintained stock and a fancy hand wash scent in lavender and bergamot notes to die for.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the Royals took another walk-through of the grounds, this time past the private apartments where they sidled in through a side entrance to finish off their duties for the day.
The Duke and Duchess paused to chat and take selfies with a row of guests in wheelchairs and Prince Edward made eye contact and grinned to the rest of us taking snaps in the line-up.
Yet again we experienced just how perfectly savvy the aids were, when one person knelt down to get a better view there were jokes such as “I can teach you to curtsy sir,” followed by: “Are you having a funny turn sir.. Forgive me for asking but what’s in the carrier bag?”
And all the while, a number of riflemen patrolled the palace roof, never far from view.
After a perfectly luxurious afternoon, all too soon the National Anthem played once more at 6pm and the Royals departed, leaving a flurry of guests to enjoy one last look at the Queen’s gardens before the long slog home.
Sadly, invitees aren’t allowed to go to another Garden Party after they’ve attended once, so I will have to treasure my memories of tea with Will and Kate and a blackcurrant scone forever.
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