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Garden Party at Buckingham Palace

We are honoured to receive 2 invitations to the Queen’s Garden Party each year, as our Patron is HRH Prince Charles.

Sue and Joel at the Garden Party

We are honoured to receive 2 invitations to the Queen’s Garden Party each year, as our Patron is HRH Prince Charles. One Walk the Walk team member has the privilege to attend each year, and takes someone with them who we feel deserves this very special treat! This year, Sue went with one of our amazing Volunteers, Joel, who has been supporting Walk the Walk for many years, taking part in 19 events in total, two as cycle marshal and the rest as zone leader. Here’s what Joel had to say.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who, at some point in their life, has peered through the railings around Buckingham Palace and wondered what it would be like to walk through those magnificent gates. Well, on Tuesday 12 May, I finally found out, as I had the great honour of being invited to accompany Walk the Walk’s very own Sue Sowerby to the royal garden party.

The formal invite had arrived a few weeks before: “The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by Her Majesty to invite Mr Joel Dinning to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace”. I went to the wardrobe and retrieved my best suit – only to find that, since I last wore it, someone must have undone the trouser waist band and re-sewn it a couple of inches smaller (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). So, it was off to the suit hire shop I went.

Forty minutes later I was decked out in grey pin-stripe trousers, black tail coat, silver waistcoat and shiny shoes (the red t-shirt I had on kind of spoiled the effect). I added my own white shirt and pink tie, and was ready to go!

Luckily the weather on 12 May was glorious, and at 2.15pm I joined the queue at the front of the palace ready for the gates to open at 3pm. The invite had suggested that people use one of the other gates to the rear, as they would be quieter – but there was no way I was turning down the chance to walk through the front gates of the palace! I had let the train take the strain on the way there, and Sue was driving in from Woking. Unfortunately, a traffic incident (a car on its roof!) only a mile and a half away was holding her up, so we arranged to meet up inside once she arrived.

The gates opened early, and I tried my very best to resemble my passport photo as I presented my invite and identification to the heavily armed policeman. And then I was in! We walked across the gravel courtyard at the front of the palace, past the immaculate Guardsman on duty, and into the inner courtyard – the royal standard fluttering away on the roof confirming that Her Majesty was in residence. Then a short detour into the palace itself, and we all emerged onto the magnificent lawn at the back.

I spent some time just taking in the atmosphere – the military band, the smartly dressed guests (lots of military uniforms present), and the chance to see the rear view of the palace. I’m not one for celebrity spotting, but did do a double take when I walked past Lizzie Yarnold (winner of the skeleton bob gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics) – no doubt there were some other athletes there too! I was strictly following the instructions on the invite, which said no cameras – and all mobiles to be switched off – only to be confronted by dozens of people taking selfies! Having been asked by a vicar and his wife, then an RAF flight sergeant, to take their photos, I decided not to miss out on the opportunity and grabbed a passing guest to take my photo too.

The tea tent was now open, and so I queued up for my cuppa along with some immaculately presented (but very small!) finger sandwiches – and an equally small cake. You’ll be glad to hear that I remembered my manners and delicately nibbled at my food (if only to make it last longer). Luckily, Sue and I then managed to spot each other (not bad considering there were 8000 guests there) – just as the national anthem heralded the arrival of Her Majesty on the rear steps of the palace. We didn’t join the queues to get a close look at the royal family (the Beefeaters with scary looking pikes making sure nobody got too close), but I think I spotted the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince Edward and Sophie. The royals made their way along expertly organised winding paths through the guests, before finally converging at the royal tea tent at one end of the lawn.

Sue and I then took a stroll around the large lake – it’s strange being in such a magnificent location, but with the sound of traffic rushing past on the other side of the wall. As the Moonwalk was only four days away, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know what our main topic of conversation was! We arrived back on the lawn shortly before the royal family departed, after which we asked another willing guest to take a photo of us both.

Before we knew it, it was 6pm and the party was over. We very slowly strolled across the lawn to the palace, and I believe we were actually the last two guests to leave (neither of us likes to leave a party before the end!) Then it was back through the palace, across the two courtyards, past the Guardsman and out through the gates – and after saying our goodbyes, Sue headed off to her car (she was allowed to park on the Mall) and I headed off to the station.

So our day out at the palace was over all too quickly, and it is an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. I would like to say a big thank you to Sue and Walk the Walk, for inviting me to what was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience life beyond the palace gates.
Joel

PS – I have splashed out and ordered the DVD of the day. It’s only half an hour long, but having made sure I was in sight of as many cameras as possible on the day, I’m sure I’ll appear in it at some point!

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