What really happens inside a Buckingham Palace Garden Party

Everything you need to know from someone who attended King Charles' official Coronation Garden Party.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla attending a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, London. Picture date: Wednesday May 8, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story ROYAL Garden. Photo credit should read: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

Held up to three times each May, the Buckingham Palace Garden Parties are one of the most highly anticipated events on the royal calendar each year. And as photos emerge afterwards showing the royals rubbing shoulders with ordinary folk, have you ever found yourself wondering what really happens during a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace? 

This is the question that I’ve been asked countless times since heading off to London in May 2023 after finding myself on the guest list for King Charles’ official Coronation Garden Party.

Our invitation to King Charles’ official Coronation garden party. (Photo: Supplied)

It was with great trepidation that I peeled the curtain back in our hotel room on the morning of May 3 following forecasts of heavy rain. However, I was delighted to be greeted with endless blue skies and two baby foxes frolicking in the rose garden below. 

Next up was a visit to the Princess of Wales’s favourite salon, Richard Ward Hair and Metrospa, where I opted for their signature Chelsea blow dry. The stylist entrusted with my locks was Tracy, who also took care of Pippa Middleton’s tresses on the day of her big sister Kate’s wedding to Prince William in 2011. 

On my way to the palace! (Photo: Supplied)

After a quick trip back to the hotel to change, my husband and I hopped into the back of a Black Cab to cruise up The Mall to the Palace, or as close as one could get three days out from the Coronation with new roadblocks going up every day. 

The Garden Party officially runs from 4 pm to 6 pm, however, the gates open at 2:30 pm. We joined the queue with our tickets and passports to make our way through two security checkpoints before being ushered into the front courtyard of the Palace and led into the grand gardens at the back. 

My husband and I waiting to enter the palace gates. (Photo: Supplied)

Now, this is not exactly an intimate affair. Approximately 8000 guests from across the UK and Commonwealth are invited. 

Established by Queen Victoria in the 1860s to present debutantes into society, the events now reward and recognise everyday people who have a positive impact on their community. 

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – JULY 04: King Charles III greets guests during a Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, as part of the first Holyrood Week since the King’s coronation on July 4, 2023 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The British Royal family will carry out traditional engagements in Scotland until Thursday. This includes the presentation of the Honours of Scotland to King Charles III and Queen Camilla at a National Service of Thanksgiving on July 05. (Photo by Jonathan Brady – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The guests were a mix of dignitaries and members of the armed and emergency services and people who have shown great commitment to public service. We met an Australian Victorian Cross recipient, a woman who worked in the Palace’s gift shop and a volunteer from The Queen’s Reading Room. Lionel Richie, who was headlining at the Coronation Concert a few days later, was also at our party. 

The event officially gets underway when senior members of the Royal Family enter the garden at 4pm as the National Anthem is played by one of the military bands.

Our Garden Party was attended by King Charles, Queen Camilla, Prince Edward, the Duchess of Edinburgh and the Duke of Kent. 

The royals split up with each member slowly making their way to the Royal Tea Tent, which is cordoned off from the main gathering, by taking a predetermined lane where guests who have been selected by aides to be presented to them are strategically placed.

Roaming the palace gardens, awaiting the arrival of the royal family. (Photo: Supplied)

Shortly after we arrived, overwhelmed by the grandeur of the gardens, and taking in the sea of colourful spring dresses and decorative fascinators on display, my husband and I became engaged in conversation with a rather dapper gentleman dressed in a top hat and tales with a large umbrella over his arm. After about 10 minutes of conversation, he revealed himself to be part of His Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, who was tasked with arranging for members of the public to meet with Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh. 

“Would you like to meet her?” he queried. 

Our details were taken down on a card to give to an aide and for the next 30-40 minutes we stayed glued to the spot in our assigned area as she made her way toward us. 

Andrew and I meeting Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh. (Photo: Supplied)

As we were presented, I sank into a curtsy as low as my bad knee would allow. It was “not compulsory” but the proper thing to do “if you feel comfortable doing so” we’d been told earlier. 

We spoke with Sophie, who looked stunning in a pink and white gingham coat dress from Suzannah London, for around 10 minutes. 

She had been up very late the night before at a rehearsal for the Coronation and shared her excitement and nerves for the big event with us, as well as chatting about what we had planned for the rest of our trip. 

Afternoon tea in the garden. (Photo: Supplied)

Afterward, we headed to the tea tent where we picked up a plate of sandwiches and tea cakes to share. The lemon tarts are quite famous and a must-try if you ever find yourself on the guest list. If not, the pastry chefs have shared their fruit scone recipe so you can bring a little taste of the Garden Party into your own home. 

We spent the next hour strolling in the gorgeous gardens and enjoying the music. All too quickly it was 6 pm almost time to leave. 

Everyone lined up to watch as the royal family left, again to the sound of God Save the King. A cheer rose from the crowd as the new King Charles and Queen Camilla made their way past. 

It was a wonderful afternoon, truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that I feel very fortunate to have been a part of. 

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