|The inner courtyard at Buckingham Palace, where we could pretend to be honoured guests for the day|
I've been invited back to Buckingham Palace - to see the Royal Welcome exhibition in the State Rooms this time, as part of a bloggers tour guided by the exhibition's curator Anna Reynolds. We were admitted ahead of the day's crowds, much to the surprise to the many people queuing at the gate who tried to get in at the same time. As well as our privileged access, we also had permission to take photographs - huzzah!
Previous visitors to the Palace asked many questions about the preparations for state and other functions such as garden parties, so it was an easy decision to make it this year's theme.
We entered in the same place as invited guests would do, with the Australian state coach placed at the door so we could imagine arriving in such grandeur.
Inside our first stop was at the Grand Staircase, which we then climbed to see the rest of the rooms set aside for the tour.
Unlike my Painting Paradise visit, I managed to meet up with Dave Marsden aka The Anxious Gardener this time. Here he is in the centre of the picture looking rather anxious [or thoughtful maybe? - Ed] in one of the galleries. It was fun to meet Dave at last after several near misses.
Much of the preparations for a state banquet are conducted below stairs, so there's a number of static exhibits upstairs to show what happens. Last year's banquet held as part of Singapore's state visit was used as the example, and my attention was drawn to the sugared orchids shown above. The orchid is Singapore's national flower and was a deliberate choice for the banquet.
Then on to the setting for the banquet itself. The napkins determine where each place setting should be and there are strict measurements for the space allocated to each guest and where everything is placed. The booklet on each place setting explains the menu, the evening's music and who else is attending the banquet. The arrival of the royal pipers and their skirling music signals the end of the evening.
I asked about the flowers used. They're chosen to match the decor and are seasonal with much of the foliage sourced from the royal estates.
The tour isn't just about state banquets. Other formal occasions are included, such as this section on the famous garden parties. The Queen usually wears a single block of colour for these, so she stands out from the crowds.
Our tour completed, we were treated to refreshments in the garden cafe, and the opportunity to go round again with an audio guide this time, if wanted.
I chose a cake with a chocolate button and a gold crown. Nothing less would do really.
Looking over the garden, the lawn looks far too big at first, with a sense the trees have been pushed to the sides. I remembered it needs to host hundreds of people attending a garden party; then it made perfect sense.
There's an unexpected bonus on the way out; a chance to meander through part of the Palace gardens towards the exit...
... with a stop for a final look back towards the Palace over the lake. There's quite a lot of wildlife to spot in this area too. Even though we're just yards from the hustle and bustle of London, this is a much quieter world. Sadly I missed seeing the national collection of mulberries which are scattered throughout the grounds. That's something to look out for on another day.
The A Royal Welcome state rooms exhibition is open until September 27th 2015, from 9.30am until 6.30pm (last entry 4.15pm). Note that from September 9th, there is an additional element to the exhibition called Long to Reign Over Us, which we didn't get to see and marks the Queen becoming the longest reigning British monarch on Wednesday.
NB The tour option which includes a closer look at the gardens than I had is sold out for 2015. The superb Painting Paradise exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, which looks gardening and its history illustrated by items from the Royal Collection, runs until 11th October and is well worth a look.
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I've concentrated on the more gardeny aspects of the tour. If you're interested in seeing more of how a state banquet is prepared, then look no further than Rachel Knowles' post in her excellent Regency History blog.
There's lots of videos showing the detailed aspects of the preparations. I particularly liked the time lapse one showing the setting up of the banquet. The above video is a cut down version and gives you a good idea of what goes on.