I originally posted this article on Medium in 2015.
I was sorting out some paperwork at home the other day and came across a letter which prompted me to share this story.
. . .
On a random evening in February 2010 I got in from work to find a letter on the doormat. It started like this…
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Dear Mr Rhodes,
INVITATION TO A ROYAL GARDEN PARTY
On behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills I am delighted to invite you to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace this summer hosted by Her Majesty The Queen. You may be accompanied by an adult guest.
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I immediately thought it was a wind-up from a work colleague, and pretty much forgot about it straight away. A few mornings later in the office the PA to my director came over and asked if I’d received anything interesting in the post at home recently. Turns out it wasn’t a joke and a few months later I was on a train down to London with Lyndsey, my then-girlfriend, now-wife.
I’d been nominated by some very nice colleagues and co-workers at the organisation I was working for at the time, Ufi (better known then as learndirect). I’d love to say the nomination was for an awesome project I’d managed, but it was in recognition for some fundraising I had been doing for a local charity.
They not only got me an invite to the best party in town, but also sorted out train tickets, a hotel and lovely meal as well as giving me the day off. I’m still so appreciative to this day of what they did.
On the day, a little after lunch, we had checked into the hotel, got changed into the appropriate attire and walked the 10 mins to Buck Palace. We queue with several other thousand people and chuckled as we lined up with people in all types of army gear, well-to-do folks in top hat and tails and tons of other people who (I still think) deserved to be there more than I did.
Things then got even more surreal. After getting our names checked off the guest list, we walked through the gates and across the gravel area (you know, where they do changing of the guards) and through the palace (you know, where the Queen lives) and through to the gigantic back garden.
We moseyed around a bit, chuckled some more at where we were and then then went to get some grub. It was stereotypical Britishness and we couldn’t have been happier. Cucumber sandwiches on white bread with the crusts removed? Aye. Tea served in white bone china cups and saucers from a silver urn? Of course. Victoria sponge cake served on white doilies? By the dozen.
At 4pm the band started playing the national anthem which a) made the hairs on my neck rustle in the wind, b) signalled that Her Majesty was about to enter the shindig.
She walked out into the garden and through an opening on the lawns which had been created by some unknowns. Pretty much exactly in the picture above that I’ve nabbed from Google (phones and cameras were banned). Prince Philip took the left side of the garden, The Queen took the right side. At the closest point she was about three metres away from us.
I was in Her Majesty’s back garden and she was a few metres away…it’s still absolutely crackers to me now.
The rest of the afternoon carried on in a similar way. The Queen chatted to some guests, we ate some more sarnies, drank some tea, looked round the gardens and at 6pm the band played the national anthem which signalled Her Majesty was off inside (to watch Neighbours presumably).
The crowd soon started to leave and we joined the queue to go back through the palace, out onto Spur Road to find the nearest pub to have a pint. It was a brilliant yet surreal day and I couldn’t have been prouder.
. . .
With hindsight I wish we had have sneaked a phone or camera in . Loads of people did and no-one got stopped.