Relaxed security, excellent sandwiches and a Queen close-up: What a Buckingham Palace garden party is really like

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent
The Queen welcomes thousands of guests to the parties each year. (Getty Images)

Over the course of a summer, the Queen welcomes tens of thousands of guests to her London home for the Buckingham Palace garden parties.

She also hosts a party in Scotland, at her Edinburgh home of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

But this year, the events have been cancelled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Instead, 2020’s guests will attend in 2021.

The parties, which have been held since the 1860s, are a way for the Royal Family to thank people who have given their time and support to their communities.

Charlotte Neal, 28, attended a garden party in Buckingham Palace in 2017.

She told Yahoo UK: “There wasn’t a huge amount of security that I remember, but everyone had to queue to get in.

“I was on a press pass so I went through a different entrance. They did let me into a room in the palace by accident, where I stood with someone for a bit. There was a picture of the Queen holding a bunch of flowers on the table.”

Charlotte Neal attended the garden party in 2017. (Charlotte Neal)

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Speaking about the Queen, she said: “You could get fairly close, Kate and William were there too.

“They walk through a line of people in the garden and then go to a tent at the bottom which they sit in.

“You can go and say hello.”

She said: “You can go in the downstairs part of the palace, in one big room, and some tents outside.

“The dress code wasn’t particularly specific, it was just ‘smart’ and women should wear dresses. But there was a lot of colour, it was lovely.”

The selection of treats for the party attendees. (Charlotte Neal)
The menu with royal treats. (Charlotte Neal)

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Neal, from London, said the event lasted about two and a half hours.

While guests don’t go inside the palace to go to the toilet, Neal said there were posh toilet cabins rather than a festival portaloo – and no queues.

Richard Hatherall attended a royal garden party with his uncle, mother and sister in 2004 – and remembers well Her Majesty’s determination against the rain that poured that day.

Hatherall, 40, was there to celebrate 100 years of the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), of which his late uncle was a fellow.

The Queen at a garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh last year. (Getty Images)

He told Yahoo UK: “No cameras were allowed, but I actually remember that security was not particular that overbearing.

“We went in through the front gates, through a centre courtyard and in to the back garden.

“There was a roped-off area where eventually the Queen appeared with her 'hareem' – she was carrying her own umbrella (clear plastic) and handbag (of course!).”

He added: “Someone brought her a cup of tea (a footman I believe). She then rummaged around in her handbag and produced a small white sweetener dispenser and sweetened her own tea.”

About 8,000 guests attend each party. (Getty Images)

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Despite the rain, Hatherall said the Queen stayed at the party for some time, and that he was about 20 metres away from her, separated by a white rope.

He said: “Food was served in a large marquee and I think there were people walking around with trays.

“I remember being amazed that Buckingham Palace felt essentially hollow as you could walk right through the middle.”

He said the finger sandwiches, scones and tea on offer “weren’t bad”, likening the event to a wedding, as people stood to eat.

Marking what should have been a palace party on Tuesday, the Palace tweeted: “To all of this year’s guests – thank you for your service, and we look forward to seeing you at Garden Parties next year.”

The Queen was undaunted by the rain in 2004. (Getty Images)

Some 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake are consumed at each party.

The royal pastry chefs shared their scone recipe, so that partygoers can recreate the day at home.

On Twitter, previous attendees comforted future visitors that the wait would be worth it.

One said: “Had the absolute pleasure and privilege of attending a party at The Palace last year after being invited by The Not Forgotten. A wonderful day out which was thoroughly enjoyed by both myself, my husband and the friends we were with. Thank you Your Majesty for allowing us the honour.”

Another added: “Best day ever and perfect afternoon tea. 2020 invitees, it's worth the wait, and congratulations.”

One said: “Having been lucky enough to have attended a couple of these I can say that the cucumber sandwiches are rightly legendary! How can a cucumber sandwich be legendary? Well they just are!”