One year ago today I attended the Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Palace) in Edinburgh. It would be the last Garden Party that The Duke of Edinburgh would attend with The Queen, as he had announced his retirement earlier in 2017. It would also be one of the wettest and coldest Garden Parties in history (maybe I’m exaggerating).
On the day of the Garden Party, the temperatures dropped and it had drizzled earlier in the morning. Thankfully, the rain held for the next few hours until the Garden Party was over and somehow the clouds knew when to burst! No one could have predicted the weather so most of the women dressed for a warm day. At the last minute, I threw on a cardigan and Maple Leaf tartan shawl to keep me warm. Unfortunately for the rest of the women, I could see them shivering so much that they could barely use their phones or cameras. Many men wore their kilts but I think they seemed to fare better than we did.
Although I had visited the Palace and the Palace Garden before, I had naively thought that there would be more room to mingle and see the Royal Family up close. With over 8,000 attendees that day, I realised I would have to stand on my tippy-toes or move as quickly as possible.
The Garden Party started at 4 with the arrival of The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, and The Duke of York. The National Anthem played (we did not sing) and then the bands started playing music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom of the Opera, and more.
The Queen and her husband took separate routes to meet their guests which is also when the crowd scrambled to follow one or the other. As I lost hope to get close to The Queen, I decided to follow The Duke of Edinburgh and managed to get to the second row quite a few times (hence there are more photos of him). I didn’t see The Duke of York during the Garden Party so he must have hidden himself quite well!
Once The Queen and her husband reunited, they entered the royal tent to take tea with their special guests, the WRENS.
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) July 4, 2017
For the next little while (it felt like an hour but I didn’t keep track of time), we stood patiently until The Queen and The Duke came towards us (this time I was in the second row so I did get to see The Queen but was not close enough to talk to her) before taking their leave.
Once they had left and we finally realised that they would not be returning, we dashed to the attendees tent for our afternoon tea. I had so many cups of the Garden Party tea just to keep warm! But guess what many of us also did? Did you know ice cream would be served as well? Never mind that it felt like winter. We weren’t going to refuse special strawberry ice cream! So we ate and laughed at ourselves. I met a couple who joined me at my table and we talked about how cold it was and about the ice cream. The Scottish are truly lovely people.
Overall, I enjoyed the Garden Party and I am very grateful to the Canadian High Commission for this opportunity.
How to Attend a Garden Party
There are four Garden Parties every summer: three at Buckingham Palace and one at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. These Garden Parties are by invitation only to those who have contributed to their community or through the High Commission. Attendees may attend only once in their lifetime.
I believe those who have been invited personally are usually invited along with their spouse/partner and children, if any. An invitation does not guarantee an introduction to The Queen or other members of the Royal Family.
Through the High Commission
I am not sure how many embassies have the privilege of nominating their citizens to attend but I applied through the Canadian High Commission. Nominees can bring one guest of any nationality but must indicate this at the time of the application (around January/February). There is no way to add a guest to the list once the application has been submitted. I attended alone, much to the great disappointment of everyone who learned I would be attending. Once you have been approved, you will be notified when the royal invitation has arrived for collection. I can’t remember if the applicant has to be a resident in the UK but this is something you can check with the HC. The event is free to attend.
What to Wear
Men in morning dress, uniform, or National dress. Women in day dress with hat or whimsy (I think I saw a tiara last year?). Wear comfortable shoes but something that has some height so you can see over all the hats. Also consider the fact that you’ll be walking on gravel and grass most of the time. Might also want to bring a shawl in case it’s chilly.
- Make sure you pack your invitation and passport first! I forgot the former (kept it very safe in my bedroom) but the staff at Buckingham Palace reassured me that they would let the GP staff know about the situation.
- Charge your smartphone and bring an external battery just in case.
- Bring tissues or a handkerchief. Better be prepared than to find yourself in an awkward situation.
- Check the weather forecast and plan for unpredictable weather.
- The gates are open around 3pm but plan to arrive well before 4pm. You’ll have to join the queue and go through a security check.
- Use the temporary lavatory as soon as you enter. It’s not a long walk from where you’ll be gathering but you really don’t want to have to go whilst the Royal Family are around.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of attendees. Keep moving until you can see better or find the perfect place to see the Royal Family. I managed to go from seeing almost nothing to seeing The Queen behind someone.
- Stay closer to the palace and the royal tent – you’ll have a better chance of seeing the Royal Family. If you’re closer to the attendees tent, you’re highly unlikely to be visited! (But you do get first dibs on food!)
- Enjoy the ‘afternoon tea’ and chat with a stranger.