Katharine Wootton

What happens at a royal garden party?

Katharine Wootton
What happens at a royal garden party?

As royal garden party season gets underway, here are some fun facts about the annual tradition. 

Queen Victoria started it!

Gatherings in royal gardens first took place in the 1860s when Queen Victoria hosted summer parties and were called royal  ‘breakfasts’.

The Queen would mingle with relatives, courtiers, diplomats and other members of British high society as they quaffed the finest tea imported  from the colonies.  Eligible young debutantes were also presented into society at these parties, a practice that ended in 1958. 

It's about unsung heroes

The Palace invites people who have made an impact on their community. They are nominated by  the church, local government, the civil service, the Armed Forces, Lord Lieutenants and various societies, charities and associations.

Our own Care Editor Rosie Sandall, was invited for her tireless charity work. Handwritten invites are sent out by an organising team called the Garden Party Ladies. 

There are extra parties

Every summer the Queen hosts three garden parties at Buckingham Palace and one at the Palace of Hollyroodhouse. She can arrange extra parties, as she did for the Territorial Army’s 100th anniversary in 2008 and for the WI centenary in 2015. 

A lot of tea is involved!

At each party, 8,000 guests consume 20,000 sandwiches, 20,000 slices of cake and 27,000 cups of tea. Sandwiches tend to be cucumber and mint, gammon, mustard and vine tomatoes and egg and mayonnaise (no crusts) followed by Victoria sponge and strawberries and cream. 

It runs like clockwork

3pm: Palace gates open. 4pm: National Anthem. Then the royal family circulate through ‘lanes’ to speak to as many guests as possible. The Queen’s Senior Gentleman Usher selects those to be introduced to Her Majesty – and they will be briefed on royal etiquette first. 6pm: party ends.