Wandering about the Queen’s backyard during the festival celebrating the diamond jubilee of her coronation, the author learns about royal likes and dislikes.
“Elton John cancelled his performance for the Festival, due to appendicitis. The royal baby, due any day, is making front page news. It was tough to make my way through the traffic to get here today. But I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Stephanie, an avid Londoner, as we queued up to enter the Palace.
Despite being a Mumbaikar, I understood her sentiments. On my many visits to the city, I’ve peered past the ornate, tall iron gates of the palace to watch the iconic changing of the guards. Each time, there was just one thought in my mind: what would it feel like to enter the palace? Providentially, this was the first sight that greeted me as I stepped out of my cab. Mere minutes after the guards marched past, it felt surreal to cross over the threshold, and watch the crowds from the other side. For a £30 ticket, any member of the public could set foot onto the Queen’s elusive estate, for this unique event.
The celebration also offered a unique glimpse into the royal lifestyle: their tastes in clothes and shoes; their choice of cars and pets; their favourite teas and coffees, etc. This was made possible by the Royal Warrant Holders tents and staged shows. A Royal Warrant is a mark of recognition, bestowed upon individuals or companies who have supplied goods or services, for at least five years, to the Households of the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, or The Prince of Wales.
Through the Royal Warrant Holders, I learned about the preference of the royals, heard interesting anecdotes about them, and made my own little deductions about their quirks.
For instance, I learned that King Edward the VII took open air carriage rides, even in winter. He covered himself in furs and set out into the snow, yet he wanted something to make him feel warmer in the harsh cold. So he approached Berry Bros and Rudd and asked them to create a special liqueur for him. Months later, King’s Ginger — sold in stores even today — was created. Berry Bros and Rudd also indulged Queen Mary. They created the wine cellar for her doll house: 1200 miniatures of the finest wines, spirits and beers.
At the Bentley tent, I found that the Queen Elizabeth II’s basic requirement from her state limousine was visibility. A spokesperson revealed, “a polite discussion took place with the royal family and a craftsman was sent over to take her exact measurements.” Then Bentley searched the country to find someone with the exact measurements so as not to inconvenience the Queen during the making.
I was fascinated to find that the barbers from Truefitt and Hill, the oldest barbershop in the world, make their way into the palace regularly to groom the Duke of Edinburgh.
At Twinings, which won their first royal warrant in 1836, Stephan Twining, the heir of the empire, made me a cup of tea and thanked me because “Twinings would not be what it is without India’s contribution to his company in the form of Assam and Darjeeling tea.”
The Indian link continued onto the Evening Gala, which cost £90 per head and had electric performances by home-grown artists such as Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, Katie Melua, The English National Ballet and The National Youth Orchestra. The opening act was a fusion performance with a desi element: a bhangra where the turban-clad dancers had the crowd moving to their thumping beats.
I found myself seated next to a Gujarati family. Their teenage daughter, Meera Raja, was part of the National Youth Orchestra. Her father, Dinesh, informed me that Meera, a British citizen, was the only girl of Indian origin to be part of the orchestra that evening and her goal was ‘to play once again on such a platform. But next time she wanted to be wrapped in a colourful sari!’ In the midst of this quintessentially British celebration, the links between us and the British remain strong.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the event, I came away with just one regret: I hadn’t spotted any members of royalty. Yet, I felt closer to them already. After all, even though a lot about the royals is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, I now know their chosen barbers!