Our trip to Buckingham Palace was incredible, a massive honour. The garden party was a surreal experience that is tricky to put into words. But I'll have a go...
After our drive to London from Cornwall, there was little time for preening and bouffing and attaching feathers in our hair and fiddling around with those weird tights without toes that you wear with open-toed shoes to make sure you couldn't see the seam and flapping about having all the correct forms of ID and the right invite (not the posh keepsake one, but the orange paper one that actually admits one to the Palace).
Oh no, wait. That was just me.
Bob sat watching repeats of Top Gear and laughing loudly, giving me an unwanted automotive running commentary, in between giving me time checks and saying helpful things like, 'Just brush your hair and stick the fascinator on', while I got hotter and hotter and more panicky about the 'hairdo'. I think it took him all of three minutes to throw on a sharp suit and tuck a colour-co-ordinated hankie in his pocket.
We jumped in a cab from our hotel and headed for the Palace. We had plenty of time before the gates opened at 3pm. Or did we? Central London was total gridlock. We passed a car on its roof and goodness knows where everyone else was heading, but we were stuck in solid traffic.
Hotter and hotter I became, under my trusty little dress and cashmere cardi, that had also seen No.10 Downing Street. I checked in the mirror to make sure a shiny nose wasn't scuppering the rushed make-up efforts.
I calmed my nerves with an 'obligatory blogger selfie', while Bob frantically checked his phone for alternative routes through the city. Time was ticking, and I wasn't sure if lateness counted as treason amongst the Monarchy.
|Photos were allowed outside, but not once through to the gardens|
We were lucky enough to be introduced to Prince Edward. We chatted to him about Downs Side Up, supporting new parents, about the research that project Millie Moreorless is doing into maths for children with Down's syndrome at Bath University, about Natalia modelling for Sainsbury's, about the work of the Down's Syndrome Association and also Mencap, for whom his wife Sophie Wessex is a patron. I told him that we are all different and we all need help with things from time to time, and he agreed.
He was genuine, interested and took a great deal of time to listen to us.
Later we stood in line as the Queen and Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Edward and Sophie Wessex walked past. And a strange feeling washed over me. One of a sense of history, of traditions unchanged, of witnessing something very rare. The Queen was petite and beautifully dressed in lemon. Sophie was the very epitome of chic.
Key things to rememberSo, what of the tea party itself? What of the inner sanctum?
Well, I could bore you all day, so, with fellow bloggers Tania at Mummy Barrow, Sarah at Grenglish and Laura and Amy of Making a Baby Adventure all heading off to eat cucumber and mint sandwiches without crusts this month, here is a list of what to expect/do at a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace:
- Wear comfortable shoes with a wedge or stout heel. You don't want to sink into the grass!
- Wear a hat or fascinator. (Even if it doesn't suit you and you think it looks like a dead bird.)
- If you do get to chat to a member of the Royal Family, you can do a little bob of a courtesy and it's 'Ma'am like spam, not Ma'am like harm.'
- Get there early and be prepared to queue.
- If you are hoping to meet someone you know in the gardens, you'll be lucky. The parties each host around 7,000 guests, three times a year, during May. It is a vast, but superbly organised event. I knew Annie Clements who runs Autism and ADHD was going to be there and watched out for her all afternoon, without spotting her once.
- The buffet is a sight to behold. Mini scones, tiny slices of battenburg cake, fingers of sandwich and little chocolate cakes with HRH on them and the iced coffee, which you balance on tour plate, is to die for.
- Listen carefully to the brass band, they have a sense of humour. They were playing Skyfall at one point and I half expected Liz to drop out of the sky from a passing helicopter...
- Chat to a Yeoman of the Guard. This was one of the highlights of our afternoon. He told us fascinating facts, like how he is still paid in beer after each event as he would have been centuries ago. The Beefeaters are so named because they were paid in 'Mead and Meat'.
- The invitation states that photography is not allowed inside the grounds. Some people were taking photos and they were asked to stop by the Queen's Guards. There'll be plenty of official photos to remind you of the event afterwards.
- Check out the umbrellas the Queen's Guards carry. I'm certain they double as ninja weapons for wayward guests. Umbrella combat has to be a thing, right? For illicit photo-takers maybe?
- Take it all in. Savour the moment. It's a once in a lifetime experience.
|The crowds watch the royal party in the grounds |
of Buckingham Palace
If only our girls had been thereAnd all through the event, I kept thinking of our girls, the motivation for all we do. The reason for working for change and for acceptance and support, for inclusion and belief. And a lump sat in my throat as I thought that they were the ones who deserved to be there, our girls who have made us better people who have taught us so very much. What is Downs Side Up without them?
No-one under 18 is ever invited of course, but I found myself daring to dream that one day, in the distant future perhaps they will be the ones to be invited. That Natty will stand and tell a Prince or a Princess what inclusion means from her perspective, and Mia will explain that having a sister with Down's syndrome is pretty much like any other kind of sister.
And for now, I was proud and happy that I had stood in that special garden and talked to a member of the monarchy on a subject that they probably rarely consider.