Tea for Two (Thousand)

And then some.

I was recently invited to Buckingham Palace for one of their annual Garden Parties. Me and 7,999 other people.

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Seeing as it’s not something everyone gets to do, I thought I’d blog about it…

 

My dad was invited in recognition for all of his services to charity and as supreme Daddy’s girl, I was his ‘plus one’ for the day, one of three garden parties that the Queen hosts each year at Buckingham Palace.

For the ladies, the dress code offered up: ‘Day dress with hat or Uniform. (No medals.)  Trouser suit may be worn.’

I hate dresses on me.

I can’t abide hats.

Who knows what the unpredictable British weather was going to do on the day?

Also, should I take a gift? I don’t like turning up empty-handed anywhere, let alone Buck House, but I shouldn’t imagine a ‘White Company Seychelles candle’ (3-wick at least) or bottle of Whispering Angel would cut it.

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Perfect Summer drink

I don’t need this amount of stress in my life.

There was a lot of searching. A lot of deliveries. Everything went back. In the end I rebelled and bought a skirt and top that looked pretty much like a dress. Unless they were going to manhandle me on arrival, I figured no-one would ever know.

Entry into the Palace is offered from three entrances:

  • Grand Entrance (main gate)
  • Hyde Park Corner Gate
  • Grosvenor Place Gate

You’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go INSIDE Buckingham Palace. Which gate do you THINK I chose?

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Obvs.

We queued along Constitution Hill, allowing us time to discuss ‘how easy would it be to hop over the railings and try to scale the wall’, a la Michael Fagen in ’82? Luckily for us, we had the right accreditation and as we entered the gates, there we were, strolling across the crunchy infamous forecourt.

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My foot. On actual Palace crunchy courtyard

 

Once inside the gates, you are ushered through to an even crunchier courtyard towards another checkpoint, where our invite was taken and we were welcomed inside.

TONS of marble. Lots of massive chairs. Enormous paintings. The Queen seems as bad as I am at changing over her pictures. (Maybe she hasn’t printed hers out either?)

And then all of a sudden… we were properly in. Or ‘out’ to be precise, onto the West Terrace with the most surreal view.

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When you consider that there are 8,000 attendees, I imagined swarms of people, like when I went to see Guns n’ Roses at Olympic park last year, only less sweaty and dressed a bit nicer.

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But it was very civilised – no barging, no shoving, just all very refined and polite. As we moved gracefully about the lawn, we chatted to other invitees including one of the Queen’s Chaplains, who informed us that it Prince Charles was going to be present for tea. She suggested grabbing a refreshing lemon squash before the tea tents opened, so we did just that, muttering that the Queen could have turned up for us.

Squash was ‘very ‘weak and pishy’ as my Dad would say, but we drank it anyway, enjoying the military band playing everything from Star Wars to James Bond to Raiders of the Lost Ark. (No Guns n’ Roses though. And definitely no moshpit.)

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All together now…

It was an observational delight for someone like me. Behind my sunglasses, I people-watched on a grand scale and had a little rest on one of the many garden chairs set out, sipping pishy lemon squash. I wonder if M’am got all of the chairs from Homebase? She must have a massive shed. And I bet she doesn’t have to nag HRH Philip to get them out when the weather turns nice. (Yes, husband dearest, I’m talking to you.)

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(Not my actual shed.)

We observed national dress, loads of Mayors, stupidly high heels, a man dressed head-to-toe in orange, plus lots of ladies in dresses that came up to their pippicks.

 

‘Time for tea’, we decided, and headed over to the main tea tent, where queues were already forming. There are three tents – Main, Royal and Diplomatic – and having read various online forums about what happens at these things, the main piece of advice seemed to be ‘pile it high’.

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Knew my Pizza Hut training came in handy

But what to choose…

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I only came for the Cakes

Dad chose everything I wouldn’t.

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Father’s choice – yuk

I chose everything my Dad wouldn’t.

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My choice. Passion Fruit tart was ridiculously amazing

If you want criticism, then here it comes…

The spoons were unbranded, so I didn’t even feel the urge to nick one. (And yes, I was constantly on the look-out for something to nick.)

I expected HRH-branded napkins, but there weren’t even normal napkins. Much licking of sticky fingers ensued. Maybe it’s an environmental thing? HRH doesn’t want to find loads of napkins blowing across the lawn into the Royal bushes. I know how annoyed I get when I find the kids the snack wrappers blowing around in my garden.

 

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Pick it up!

Suddenly, the Yeomen were out in force and the crowds parted to form a meandering pathway for the Royals to move through the guests.

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Much neck craning and hushed chattering, and suddenly there he was in view on the steps, a bit like the daily ceremony at Disneyworld.

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Prince Charles. Not Mickey Mouse

Prince Charles chatted to many guests along the path and then entered the Royal tea tent, so we took this opportunity to go for a wander around the lake and through the stunning Rose Garden.

Whilst the gardens are incredibly beautiful, they’re pretty noisy. I’d be mega peeved if I could hear the traffic when chilling in my garden. (Just saying.. all that money on a property and you’re by a main road.)

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Can’t I at least nick a leaf?

Still on the nicking theme, maybe I could pick a flower and press it when home? Surely no-one would notice? There were thousands of them, but I decided it wasn’t worth getting booted out over a floribunda rose.

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Actual Royal rose. I touched it

I also hugged a tree. Because, why not?

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Royal Tree hugger

As we headed back to the main lawn, our time was nearly over. The National Anthem played out and as the Royal party left, there was just one more essential stop to make.

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The Royal Throne

I was hoping for a last-ditch attempt of something worth pilfering, but I left empty-handed. (Washed, but empty.)

 

At least I came away with the most amazing memories.

Plus an underlying streak of kleptomania.

And my bottle of Whispering Angel that I forgot to take with.

x

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Queen Victoria Memorial from ‘their side of the fence’

ps. Happy birthday to the Queen. Not bad for 92. 8/6/18

 

It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding…

I started this blog as a bit of an off-shoot for my writing course which I enrolled on when I had a bit of a meltdown at 40 and thought, “Now what?”

Aside from the student discount it gave me (seriously, best thing ever!), it gave me a forum to pour out some adaptations of my coursework, with various topics given for each module.

One module had two options:

A) To write a piece of erotic fiction

or

B) To re-write a fairytale

I tried with A. I really did. But E.L. James and all her Fifty Shades of Filth is actually not so easy to write. If you are in the slightest bit bashful, it comes across in your writing. (And I wasn’t very comfortable ‘coming across’ anything that I would then have to submit to my tutor.)

So, I chose option B. And here it is. It just seemed apt to share it today…

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THE PRINCESS AND THE CARAT

by Debbie Collins

“Larry, my darling grandson. It has come to my attention that whilst your older and far uglier brother of yours, Arthur, has found himself a lovely bride-to-be, you are still flying solo. I may be the Queen of this fine country, but I am still your meddling old Gran and I think it’s high time you got yourself a nice young girl.”

Larry was yet to find his Princess and although he had very much enjoyed looking, he knew it was time to settle down. He had dated girls here, there, near and far, but no-one could hold his interest for long enough. Arthur was always the steadier one, having found himself the most perfect bride to join the Royal family but unfortunately for Larry, none of his relationships had lasted more than six months. Without letting Granny-dearest know, he was secretly pleased that she was helping him to find ‘the one’, as he loved spending time with her. If nothing else, he would have a date for his brother’s wedding.

The Queen doted on Larry – he was her little cherub and as much as she daren’t have favourites amongst the Royal grandchildren, he would seek her out in the Palace and remain by her side like one of her beloved corgis.

“But Grandma, really? ‘The One’? Honestly, I think your time would be better suited to opening a new hospital wing or whatever it is you get up to these days.” Larry sighed a dramatic sigh and flopped down onto the brown leather Chesterfield. The Queen stood up with her usual assertiveness and yanked her handbag out from underneath Larry. From inside she pulled out a dark wig and gave it a shake before putting it on her head.

“Well, I’m all done opening hospitals this week. And I’m not due on that tour of Australia for another week. Come on, we’re going for lunch and a bit of shopping!”

With that, the Royal driver was called and Larry and his Gran, were off in disguise to do some shopping in their favourite store ‘Selfreezers’. Larry wore his favourite grey cashmere beanie hat that conveniently hid his shock of wild ginger hair, making him otherwise instantly recognisable to the public at large. Gran, a.k.a the Queen of England, was channeling her inner ‘Anna Wintour’ with a bobbed brown wig and seriously oversized sunglasses.

With security teams positioning subtly all around them, they flitted in and out of the various departments going pretty much un-noticed. On these little trips, Larry would always adopt a Cockney twang, calling out loudly over the shop floor, “Ere nan! Cam over ere n’ ‘av a butchers.” The Queen loved covertly interacting with the public-at-large and she would chat away to staff on the tills…

“Day aaaaht wiv mi’ grandsun, innit. Lavley boy ‘e is takin’ ‘is ole nan ahhht fer the dayyy up West.”

Laden with big, glossy yellow boutique bags, drawing possibly a bit too much attention to themselves, they exited the store through personal shopping and hopped back in the car. As the pair cruised the city in a blacked-out Range Rover, they laughed and joked by winding down their windows and waving at passers-by for fun.

“Larry my boy, I fancy a new run-around. Shall we nip into ‘Range Rover’? You know much your opinion matters to me.” Larry was easily flattered by his Grandma and the more time he could spend with this very busy VIP OAP, the better.

“Of course! Let’s make a day of it,” Larry eagerly agreed.

As they pulled up at the Mayfair Range Rover showroom there were thousands of people and photographers waiting outside, including a cordoned-off line of the hysterically excited girls, winding their way around the side of the building.

“How on earth do they always manage to find us? Let’s leave it for another day, Gran.” Larry looked uneasily out of the car window, feeling disappointed that his day with granny dearest was to be cut short.

“No, darling. Quite the contrary. I had this specially organised. They’ve been expecting us.” The Queen removed her wig, gave her hair a fluff and straightened the hemline of her tweed outfit. “Go on. Out you get, poppet.”

Feeling confused, Larry exited the car, deafened by the cheers and blinded by the flashbulbs going off and the calls of ‘over here Ma’am!’, ‘this way Larry!’ and ‘one of you together please!’.

Once inside the showroom, Larry slowly slid the beanie hat off his head, realising the disguise was no longer needed. Puzzled, he asked, “Gran, what on earth is going on?”

The Queen explained that she had organised a ‘meet-and-greet’ for Larry to find his perfect Princess, to bring along as a date to to Arthur’s impending wedding.

“Gran, are you telling me you’ve basically organised a Royal Britain’s Got Talent?!” Larry was incredulous and ran his fingers furiously through his hair.

“Yes, although no Simon Cowell on the judging panel. Although I did ring Simon. He says, ‘good luck’!” The Queen trotted off to speak to the David, the showroom manager, about getting going with the proceedings.

Over in the corner, a new member of staff called Kelli looked on in amazement at all that was going on.

“We never had this at Saab,” Kelli thought to herself.

Kelli started working at Range Rover a few weeks ago and was trying her best to fit in and make a good impression. Little did her colleagues know, but Kelli was actually a pretty important person, because she was in fact the daughter of Prince Alec of Sweden. Kelli was keen to show her father that she could be so much more than ‘just a Princess’, and he was happy and proud for her to spread her wings in London and experience ‘normal life’.

The enormous digital clock on the showroom wall displayed 11:57 as the Queen gathered all staff together to explain how things would be unfolding for the afternoon.

“Righty-ho. At midday on the dot, the doors will fling open and all the girls will come through and register. They may all claim to be Princesses, but I’ll be the judge of that,” said the Queen.

As staff began to take their places, Larry’s eyes met Kelli’s and she smiled brightly at him as she walked off. He smiled back and thought how refreshing it was not to have a girl fawn all over him. She seemed totally relaxed and not in awe of him whatsoever. He felt as if he somehow knew her, but surely that was impossible?

The Queen and Larry moved to the right-hand side of the showroom into a private office with big glass windows that overlooked the entire showroom, allowing them a prime view of all that was happening. Larry distractedly watched the beautiful dark-haired girl take her position within the showroom. He knew most of the staff at the showroom from numerous Royal visits, so he was sure he would have noticed her before today.

Larry wanted nothing more than to find this girl and go and say a proper hello, but he knew he had to focus on the task in hand. Unconvinced, he asked, “Gran, what have they actually got to do?”

“Not much,” the Queen said nonchalantly. “They’ll walk past, give us a wave and a curtsey and then go behind that big red curtain over there. Nothing too challenging even for the dimmest ones, of which I’m sure there are quite a few.”

“What’s behind the curtain then?” asked Larry.

“I’ll show you.” The Queen clicked on the monitor which was set upon the desk and up popped a live feed of the latest yet-to-be-unveiled Range Rover, with a life-size grinning Larry cardboard cut-out sitting in the driver’s seat. 

“The idea is, each girl will come through, sit in the passenger seat and pose for the Royal photographer, while you and I take notes from back here. The girls don’t know we can see or hear them.”

At midday on the dot, the girls started to flow into the showroom to register, they gracefully walked past Larry and his Gran and giggled, curtseyed and smiled before going behind the curtain.

As they watched girl number 398 slide effortlessly into the passenger seat purring about how comfortable the car was, pretty much the same pattern was repeated girl after girl. After an hour or so into things, the Queen ordered a Royal break for some dainty cucumber sandwiches, which also allowed Larry to go through his list of potential candidates. Unfortunately, the list wasn’t as long as he had hoped for because the princesses were all so terribly fake and seemingly desperate to win him over.

“Now I know how Simon Cowell feels at most of the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ auditions,” sighed the Queen in disappointment.

As Larry and the Queen and Larry considered their strategy for the next round, the staff at Range Rover were busy giving the showroom a tidy up, as it had become extremely messy. The hopeful Princesses had dropped tissues, wrappers and left make up stains all over curtained-off area. Kelli, being the newbie, was given the job of tidying the inside of the new Range Rover.

“Princesses my bum. They’re nothing but a load of fakes,” she mumbled to herself, as she wiped the lipstick smears that some over-zealous girls had planted on the cut-out’s cheek. Kelli emptied out the chewing gum wrappers and collected the half-empty bottles of water strewn in the passenger seat area. She also found a couple of fake nails, a set of false eyelashes and a silicon bra insert. She shook her head and chuckled to herself as she thought of the girl who had left the showroom lop-sided.

At that very moment, the Queen and Larry had resumed their positions in their viewing gallery and as the Queen was about to chat through the next hour’s proceedings, she noticed that Larry was distracted by the girl on screen. The same one she had seen him looking at intently when they arrived.

            “Larry? Darling are you ready to start the next round?” The Queen clicked her fingers in front of his eyes, but Larry was in another world, taken by this beautiful, seemingly normal girl who was cleaning his future car, sitting in the passenger seat, alongside his cardboard cut-out self.

            As no-one else was in the curtained area, Kelli took a moment to place her hands delicately on her lap and smile demurely at the camera, just as she had learnt to do so at the many debutante balls she had had to endure as a young lady. She wriggled uncomfortably in her seat and frowned, declaring, “Gosh, it’s not even comfortable!”

            “STOP THE PROCEEDINGS! We’ve found her!” shrieked the Queen.

            There was a sudden rush from Range Rover staff and all remaining contestants were told to leave. There were sobs, wails and sniffles as the showroom was swiftly cleared out.

            Larry followed the Queen out of the office towards the back where she whipped back the curtain to find Kelli exiting the car with a huge black sack full of rubbish. As she blew the wisp of glossy, dark hair from her face, she smiled at the Queen and then at Larry, executing the most perfect curtesy.

            “My dear girl what is your name?” quizzed the Queen.

            “’Kelli’, Ma’am. It’s an honour to meet you.” Kelli then nodded in respect to Larry and said, “And you, Prince Larry.”

            “Miss Kelli, could you tell me what you thought of the new Range Rover?” asked the Queen.

            By this point the entire staff had gathered round their fellow staff member to understand why the proceedings had been halted so quickly. Kelli answered with complete honesty,

            “It’s actually really uncomfortable.” She looked over warily at her boss David and expected to be fired on the spot, but instead he smiled back at her and then looked over at the Queen, giving a knowing wink and nod of his head.

            “I quite agree,” said the Queen to Kelli. “Only a ‘true Princess’ would say that…”

            With those words, Kelli’s face went pale as she panicked that her cover was blown. The Queen walked over to the passenger seat, slid her hand underneath the leather seat and pulled out the most exquisite six and a half carat, three-stone diamond engagement ring, resulting in loud gasps from the gathered crowd.

            “Gran, what is… what…  how….?” Larry was completely baffled.

            “You see, David and I hatched a little plan, Larry.”

David, the showroom manager, bowed, tilted his head and simply said, “Ma’am.”

The Queen continued, “Each girl that passed through here claimed to be a real Princess, but there was only one Princess here and that was Kelli. As soon as I saw her here a few weeks ago, I instantly knew that I recognised her and called up her father, Prince Alec to confirm it.”   

The Queen ushered a shocked Kelli over to her side and clutched her hand affectionately. “Kelli my darling, I’ve known you since you were a baby from my Royal tours of Sweden. Your father and I are great allies.”

Looking at Larry who stood to the other side of her, she continued, “The two of you were the best of baby friends, babbling and playing on the Royal lawns together. I even have videos of you two pretending to get married.”

The pair blushed as the memories came flooding back to them and Larry and Kelli smiled at each other, vaguely remembering the scene.

            “Kelli, won’t you join us for high tea back at the Palace?” the Queen asked. Kelli looked over at her boss, about to open her mouth to decline the offer when the Queen said, “Don’t worry. David will give you the rest of the day off. Won’t you, David?”

            David handed a set of keys over to Larry. “Drive carefully, your Highness. We need Kelli back safely for work in the morning. Although I’m guessing this could be Kelly’s last day…?” David smiled at Kelli and then at the Queen, who had told him all about who Kelli really was weeks ago and plotted the matchmaking.

            Larry escorted Kelli over to the new car and as he was about to remove the cut-out, she said, “Let’s keep him, he’s cute.”

            Larry grinned and said, “Maybe he can be my best man one day?” And with that, Prince Larry and Princess Kelli drove off and lived happily ever after (once they’d got through the London traffic.)

Enjoy the wedding.

xx