It started with a queue…
We’ve had quite a special few days here as you’ll gather if you follow my Facebook posts. Before I forget all the little details, I simply have to record it all because I can tell you, it’s all been a bit of a whirl.
Mary had arrived on Monday so the pair of us put on our glad rags and joined the Garden Party goers in Cirencester on Tuesday morning. Most of us decided to leave putting on our hats until as late as possible and as the journey progressed a colourful assortment of fascinators and more elaborate headgear appeared.
Our driver made an executive decision to drive straight past Reading Services, having heard there were fifteen coaches there already. We headed straight for Heston, then. Only seven coaches there – but with just five working ladies loos, you can imagine the queue! Not only did the line extend beyond the confines of the toilet area, it soon stretched right beyond the front door of the service station itself. Oh. My. Goodness.
Actually, this wasn’t the first time I had stopped here to put on a hat and touch up my makeup on a big day. Sometime in the 1980s, we accompanied my parents in law to Buckingham Palace for my f-i-l’s investiture and were driven in a very smart official car by his Police driver. Bettine and I put the finishing touches to our outfits here, whilst the men worried about the traffic. “Oh, don’t worry about that”, said the driver, “I’ve got a blue light in the glove compartment”. I was unsure whether the fun of being driven through London in a police car with a blue flashing light would make up for the stress of being late – but thankfully, we arrived in plenty of time and the blue light stayed tucked away.
Anyway, where was i? Oh yes. The queue. Another one.
Our coach driver dropped us outside the Park Lane Hilton around 2pm and as we made our way across Hyde Park Corner, it was clear, we weren’t going to simply stroll through the Palace gates. The garden gate queue was already besieged with an enormous group of women so we decided we’d walk down to the front of the Palace and do the thing properly. After all, Mary had travelled half way round the world for this experience! So we walked a few yards up (down?) Constitution Hill and joined an equally long queue there.
But spirits were high, there was entertainment in the form of the passing fashions and from time to time, there’d be a squeal and hugs all round as a result of chance encounters with friends, We soon realised that we were just in front of another bunch of other Gloucestershire members who’d arrived quite separately so the chatter and the general excitement made the wait all part of the fun.
Eventually, we were within sight of the gates. Security was tight and we’d been told to bring two separate forms of id and no more than a single handbag. For us, it was easy to leave things on the coach but for others, that had proved quite a challenge and we assumed that it was this which was creating the slow progress through the gates. But finally reaching the entrance, my passport was given a mere glance, my name checked against my invitation and my open bag simply given a quick check.
At last, we were through!
No photographs from this point, though, so cameras were tucked away and phones switched off. The last thing any of us wanted was to be ejected from the party! But what greeted us as we arrived in the inner courtyard of the Palace was …you’ve guessed, another queue!
Once we made it through the doors, up the stairs and through to the garden, the party was already in full swing. We surveyed the scene and after the initial “wow!” decided to wander around and see what’s what.
What greeted us was a flurry of ladies with cameras in their hands.
? I thought we weren’t supposed to take photos?
The guardsman standing at the foot of the steps was chatting as he stood to attention, telling the ladies that if they wanted a photo, then to go ahead because he wasn’t in any position to be able to stop them.
So I did.
I didn’t take any more photographs though, until this one taken at the very end, just as the band finished playing the National Anthem. It really was such a lovely afternoon with, thankfully, much better weather than any of us dared hope for, I was happy to simply absorb the atmosphere, enjoy the company of so many friends and to savour the moment.
We caught only passing glimpses of the Royal ladies. The Duchess of Cornwall looked happy and relaxed and Princess Alexandra was absolutely stunning as can be seen in all the press photographs of the day. But the star of the event was undoubtedly Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, whose elegant outfit and delightfully engaging personality won the hearts of many.
Of course, I could have taken a photo of the delicious assortment of teatime cakes – but I was too busy enjoying those, too. Mind you, with one hand on my hat and another holding the plate, it wasn’t an easy task to eat cake as well. (But I did )
Five o’clock soon came, then, and we made our way through the gardens to the gate nearest Hyde Park Corner to return to our coach. Somewhere along the line, we acquired a new friend in the form of an elderly lady from Staffordshire, who had lost contact with her friends and needed to make her way back to Park Lane too. By six, we were all on board and were off. Mary and I were dropped off on the Cromwell Road, close to our hotel and the others drove back to Gloucestershire.
Our fun was not over yet!
(more photos here)