Inside the King’s Garden Party celebrating British art

“You have to try the sandwiches,” my colleague Lisa Markwell, the editor of The TelegraafmagazineI advised when I casually mentioned that I had been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate Britain’s creative industries.

“I don’t eat UPFs,” I heard myself say (not my fault – blame Prof. Tim Spector). “Is there a cloakroom?” I added. ‘In the emails they say flat shoes. Mind you, everyone has been wearing heels in the YouTube videos I’ve been watching since the invite came in. So maybe heels to start, then change footwear halfway through?

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said (to my point about the UPFs), “the sandwiches are excellent. And no wardrobe.” There are apparently 775 rooms in Buckingham Palace. No cloakroom for the 4,000 guests expected today? By the way, this is a relatively small garden party.

Six are held every year, anywhere between London and Holyrood. According to the Bureau of Really Important Statistics, 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake are consumed…at every party. If you’re wondering what the connection is with Britain’s rapidly growing obesity crisis… No. Normally there are 8,000 guests at each party, so that’s only 2.5 sandwiches each and 2.5 slices of cake.

The gates open at 3pm and guests flow in, through the gate on the right, facing the palace, through to the gardens. On the left a rather ugly temporary erection – Portaloos? Security lapse? On the right, a military band plays a medley of movie classics and 100 acres of pristine green lawn, trees, beds and a lake. This is the largest private garden in the world – much larger than the park I used to live opposite in North London.

Nothing, not even that documentary with the late Queen and Sir David Attenborough, prepares you for how big the gardens are. Someone had told me they looked a bit municipal, but the lake (I didn’t expect a lake), the willows… Can you imagine a backyard that could comfortably swallow 4,000 to 8,000 people in their hats? There are marquees spread across the grass and large groups of chairs spread out like packs of cards. Guests are officially encouraged to explore the recesses and wander the alleys less traveled, but no one wants to miss our hosts’ grand entrance.

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

The King and Queen hosted the event in their backyard, which happens to be the largest private garden in the world

At approximately 3:40 PM, guests are gently herded into four separate lines. I’ve been to palace events before, and the way the palace staff seamlessly moves people into their positions requires some serious choreography worthy of Kenneth MacMillan. About every six meters, in the middle of the alleys, are small clusters of the chosen few who have been guaranteed face time with the members of the royal family. I see Sir Ridley Scott, Toby Jones, Emilia Wickstead, Eudon Choi, Erin O’Connor, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley… but not Mike Ashley of Sports Direct, who late last year bought, the luxury e-tailer, which was put into administration a few months later, leaving dozens of British designers without their own wallets to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

British models Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Erin O’Connor got face time with the king

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

Love Island presenter Maya Jama was one of many well-rounded guests – Aaron Chown/PA

I see a hatless Tess Daly, Vernon Kay, Dame Arlene Phillips, Louis Theroux and Tracey Emin. This is enchantingly eclectic. A well-known hairdresser from the fashion industry tells me rather wistfully that he has never seen so many poorly dressed people. A bit harsh. Many look very good and I only see one dress that is open at the back and reveals a lot of bra.

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

De Koning spoke with documentary maker Louis Theroux – Reuters/Yui Mok

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

Choreographer and former strict judge Arlene Phillips with the Queen

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

Guests also included artist Tracey Emin – Aaron Chown/PA

There’s lots of color, including a bright pink Me and Em pantsuit. Brave. Not because they are pants, but because Me and Em has become so popular, there is a chance that you will meet someone in the same outfit. But I think she’s safe.

Flowers are still present, but to a lesser extent, I suspect, than in previous years. There are lots of good hats, and some fascinators (it’s so sunny I’m thankful for my brim). And lots of heels – so much for the flat shoe memo.

I see the same look of bliss on faces that I’ve seen whenever royalty is around – even on people who say they’re staunch Republicans. These garden parties are certainly good at winning new friends for members of the royal family. Regardless, they have been a regular feature of the Buckingham Palace calendar since the 1860s, when Queen Victoria, the first monarch to live in the newly renovated, Nashed-up Buckingham Palace, inaugurated them. But today is the first to be held specifically for the creative industries, which, according to Buckingham Palace’s own press release, will generate more than £124 billion by 2022, employ 2.4 million people and have strong ambitions to generate a further £50 billion and add one million jobs to the bills. by 2030.

Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024Creative Industries Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, May 15, 2024

Prince Edward was seen chatting to representatives from the creative industries

Britain excels in creativity. From 2010 to 2022, the creative sector grew more than one and a half times faster than the broader economy. So why would any government even consider making cuts to the arts departments of schools and colleges? Good question, which, one suspects, the King himself might ask Rishi Sunak at one of their weekly meetings.

Time to focus, oh so casually (I’m not obsessed), on signs. Some ice cream cakes have crowns on them. If the same number of sandwiches are distributed to 8,000 guests as at the parties, that is a lot of food. But then again, at the rate this couple is chewing, is it enough? Okay, I’m obsessed. I have to find the tea tent.

At 3.55 pm I see the king and queen leave the palace and enter the terrace above the stairs to the garden, the king in a beautiful light pink cardigan, which matches the queen’s outfit nicely (not even in flat shoes). If I get the chance, I decide to ask Charles if he wears pink especially for the Creative Industry. Luckily for everyone, I don’t.

British King Charles III (L) and British Queen Camilla organize The Sovereign's Creative Industries Garden PartyBritish King Charles III (L) and British Queen Camilla host The Sovereign's Creative Industries Garden Party

The king’s light pink cardigan matched the queen’s outfit beautifully: YUI MOK/AFP

The national anthem starts at 3:59 p.m. Then Their Majesties disappear into their two different alleys. I’m standing a third of the way past King’s. “It will take hours,” a Gentleman at Arms tells me. “He is very talkative and constantly goes off-piste to talk to the audience. I don’t know if he and the queen are competing to see who can chat the longest, but…’

A woman places her tea plate next to us on the grass – practically in the middle of the track. This is a spectacularly risky gesture, but the Gentleman at Arms is remarkably relaxed and the board is quietly moved. The Gentleman at Arms is so relaxed you’d think he was a guest, dressed in morning suit and top hat.

It turns out that most of the security people are in morning suits (I’m trying to imagine H from Line of duty in a; it does not work). “You must be hot,” a guest remarks as we continue to wait for the talkative Charles. “Normally we pray for cloud cover,” the GaA replies. “And rain at 6 p.m.” The sky is cloudless. “If all else fails and people don’t leave, the band will hit the anthem again and hope everyone gets the hint.”

Oh and the egg and cucumber sandwiches? She did not disappoint. Light yet creamy, in a good way. And very small.

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