Sometimes, walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself leads to good things.
On the first day of orientation way back in September, I did just that, and it has led to some pretty epic adventures. This adventure is all thanks to my friend Steph, who was kind enough to ask me to be her Plus One at the Queen’s Garden party.
Walking up to a stranger and saying hello led to friendship, which led to me attending an authentic, official tea party at a palace. A tea party where we wore fancy dresses, silly hats, and sat in front of a huge palace while esting tiny cakes and finger sandwiches (cucumber and mint sandwiches, because of course), and drank tea out of pretty tea cups.
Applying for tickets was quite a process – we sent in our application back in February and had to send copies of our passports, proof of address, and other forms of ID to prove who we were. The ticket was not transferable, and one couldn’t attend without the other, meaning that if one of us suddenly couldn’t go to the party, the other wouldn’t either. Talk about pressure.
The invitation came with instructions for appropriate attire, and the dress code was formal. After scouring the mall, I think I found an acceptable outfit.
I finally got to wear a fancy, ridiculous-looking fascinator. Where else will I ever be able to wear this again??
Steph and I joked about the fact that we were so dressed up, and taking the Tube (the underground subway) to Buckingham Palace.
As Steph deducted, Tube’s have “carriages”, ergo we traveled by carriage to a palace….does that make us princesses??
The party officially began at 4, with doors opening at 3:00, so we figured we should arrive by about 2:00. By the time we arrived at the gates of Buckingham, there were already long lines of people waiting to get in.
One of the (many) highlights of the day: Having tourists mistake us for important people and ask to take their pictures WITH us while we were waiting in line-they may be disappointed if they try to google us.
After waiting for about an hour in a light drizzle (my umbrella did not match my dress-how tacky), we finally got to go INSIDE the palace gates and through the front door.
This is in the inner courtyard. Buckingham Palace is designed as a square with a large empty space in between the front and back halves. Note all the women in floral and fascinators.
We walked THROUGH the inside of the palace (!!!) and into the backyard of Buckingham.
The back of the palace is a darker, different shade from the front because this is the original, dating back to 1703. It was originally known as Buckingham House, and was built for the Duke of Buckingham as a townhouse. During the 19th century it was expanded to have three extra wings, creating a square building with a courtyard in the center (pictured above).
Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the Queen. Although she spends much time here, she considers this her “office” and Windsor Castle her “home”. This palace has 775 rooms, and the Queen’s garden is the largest private garden in London.
We were told explicitly on the invitation that NO photography was allowed, and cameras could not be brought into the Palace. However, as soon as we stepped into the backyard, literally EVERYONE had their phones out and were snapping away. This went on throughout the entire party, and people had no shame; they were taking pictures in front of the guards and employees, and were not subtle at all. Because of this, I didn’t feel guilty (well, maybe just a little) taking pictures.
I loved seeing men in top hats and tails! I felt quite fancy.
The backyard had two Tea Tents: one for the guests, and another for the Queen. The Queen’s Tea Tent had a vibrant red carpet and was roped off to give her a bit of space.
We spent the first hour sitting next to the band listening to music and nibbling on treats.
I want to know who picked the music. The first song they placed was “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles, which happens to be my favorite Beatles song! They also played “Let It Go” and “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” (not in May, Elsa and Ana), “The Circle of Life,” circus music, and so many other random songs that I was not expecting. It was quite entertaining to hear what they were playing next!
They had two bands, set in opposite ends of the grounds, and would take shifts playing.
The food was really the best part. Normally the pretty little cakes in shop windows look so much better than they actually taste, but it was not the case this time!
Everything was delicious! The cucumber finger sandwich and sponge cake were my favorites.
At 3:40 the Yeomen of the Guard emerged, and we all stood in rows to prepare for the Queen to emerge.
Luckily, we ended up being right up front, and had a perfect view of everything.
At 4:00 the band played the National Anthem to announce the arrival of Her Majesty The Queen. As soon as she stepped outside it began to rain (because, of course). Luckily I’m short enough that I was under a canopy of umbrellas and was fairly safe from the rain.
Below is an aerial picture of how we would have been lined up. Steph and I were standing on the right side, close to the front.
The Queen’s walk from the Palace to her fancy Tea Tent took much longer than I expected. There was a small number of people that were being presented to the Queen for work they had done (I am not sure, but the people around us seemed to think it was for charity or public service work). They were spaced out in little clusters, with most in groups of four to six people.
I was standing directly behind a group of four people being presented to the Queen, which worked out quite well for me! I ended up being less than 10 FEET from the Queen herself!
She wore a bright pink coat with a matching hat AND a matching umbrella. Girl knows how to coordinate on a rainy day. Even though I was SO CLOSE, I didn’t take a picture because I didn’t want to push the “no photos” ban (haha) too far.
Luckily there were people who are much braver than me and took plenty of pictures of her so my scaredy cat self didn’t have to.
I thought it was nice that she stopped and chatted with each group for probably five or six minutes. She spoke with each person individually, asking them questions about themselves and their work. Although I was close, she was a bit soft spoken, so I couldn’t make out everything she was saying.
It had a very personal feel to it. The group would be presented to the Queen by one of her employees, and then she alone would chat with them. Her guards stayed a back a bit, so it really felt like she was just having a casual chat with friends. It did give me a bit more respect for her seeing how involved she appeared to be, and the time and focus she gave every person.
Once she reached her Tea Tent, the rain finally stopped (because, of course). We were then free to wander around and explore the gardens.
Everyone we met was so friendly! I think we were all just so excited to be there that we couldn’t not be happy. So many kind people offered to take our picture, and everyone was so complimentary about our outfits.
The garden was beautiful! It’s about 42 acres and has a two and a half mile path. Navigating wet gravel in heels is not something I would recommend. By the end of the day my feet were killing me! But I kept reminding myself, pain is temporary, garden party memories are forever.
The garden is home to 30 species of bird, 322 types of British wild flower, 150 mature trees, and a quarter of the total British list of moths and butterflies.
It is also the oldest helicopter pad in London, and was first used for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953!
At 5:50 the Queen returned to the Palace. As soon as she started making the walk back, it began to rain (because, of course). It was almost like it couldn’t rain until she was out in the open. Just an excuse to use her matching umbrella, I suppose….
At 6:00 the band played the National Anthem once again, and then it was time to head home. The gates shut behind us and my time in the Palace was over.
Six year old me never could have imagined this could actually be a reality, and would be gaping in awe. Twenty – four year old me is having a hard time believing this actually is reality, and is gaping in utter awe.
And to think….there were actually PEOPLE in attendance, not my dolls or stuffed animals. And an actual queen was there, not my mother wearing a plastic crown (although you did rock that look Mom!).
My time as Cinderella is over: