I never imagined the first time I met a member of the Royal Family, that my grey roots would be quite so prominent. I had planned to have them covered in a colour that vaguely matched their ends, but time ran away from me and I naively thought a hair fascinator would disguise the worst offenders.
On reflection, I should have bought a bigger fascinator. Or, a sombrero.
When the Women’s Institute announced that HRH The Duchess of Cornwall would be hosting a special Garden Party at Buckingham Palace to honour its centenary, I had no expectation of even being invited. Every WI was offered just one place and names were put into a hat and drawn at random. Needless to say, I did not win.
However, a few days later there was a second draw, which I did!
In preparation for my day at the Palace, I shaved my legs, straightened my hair and ripped an old silk-dress free from its dry cleaning plastic. I wore wedges on the advice of Hayley Goleniowska & Mummy Barrow, who had both recently attended a Royal Garden Party and warned there would be a lot of queuing and standing around on soft grass.
I am of the belief that joining the back of a moving queue takes less time than being at the front of one that is standing still, so we arrived just after the main gates to the Palace opened. It took us about 30-minutes to reach the front where we had to present our passports and admittance slips.
From there, we followed the sea of hats towards the Palace and took our first step across the threshold and into the Queen’s hallway. We then made our way out to the garden. Fancy tea tents lined the lawn outside, while 2 military bands played.
Spotting a woman by herself, I smiled. She approached us and we chatted about how far we had traveled to be there, what we loved most about the WI and how excited we were to be at the Palace. She then explained that she actually sat on the board of the NFWI and asked if we would like to be officially presented to Princess Alexandra.
WE WOULD LOVE TO.
So, with that we were escorted to our ‘lane’. Each member of the Royal Family took a different route and introductions were made to a select few along the way.
Had I known I was going to shake hands with a Princess, I might have rehearsed my curtsey in front of the mirror beforehand. Perhaps, I would have chosen a dress that had a bit more give in the knee area; and packed a blemish concealer and a fresh breath spray in my handbag. I would have practiced saying Ma’am (as in jam) and not Ma’am (as in arm). I would not have bitten my nails down to the quick. Nor would I have passed up a toilet opportunity before entering the grounds. And, I certainly would have touched up my greys!
But, I don’t think Princess Alexandra noticed any of that. She spent a few minutes talking to us about the WI; why we joined and the positive effect it has had on our lives. She was charming, funny, and seemed genuinely interested. When it was time for her to move on, the crowds parted way and our moment was over.
We strolled over to the tea tent where an array of crustless sandwiches and delicate cakes were served on white china trays with a cup of royal tea. This was the first chance we’d had to sit down all day and our feet were tired. We ate in silence, looking out over the Palace grounds and listening to the chatter around us. Every few minutes, we’d both look at each other and one of us would say ‘did that really just happen?’
I joined my local WI the year after my son was born on a mission to make new friends. Every month, members are invited to take part in various educational or skill-building activities, ranging from craft workshops to dance tutorials and local history walks. They also campaign on issues of importance to them and their community.
And, I have done all of this in abundance!
I have been to tea tastings, wine tastings and cheese tastings. I have learnt how to swing, salsa and street dance. I have listened intently to talks given by the inspirational authors of GI Brides and Dangerous Women: The Guide to Modern Life. I know the difference between Tai Chi and a Chai Latte, and I made my own Christmas wreath for the front door.
It was through the women I met at the WI that I was able to leave my full-time office job and start writing from home. As of last week, I can now also say that I have had afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace in the presence of The Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Alexandra, The Countess of Wessex, The Duchess of Gloucester and around 5,000 other members of the Women’s Institute.
But, more than this, I have achieved what I set out to do 5-years ago – make really good friends.