LONDON - A young Briton of 17 tried to moon Queen Elizabeth II at a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace. He had wagered with his brother that he would succeed in embarrassing her, and when he saw her approaching, surrounded by a retinue of attendants and guards, he began to run toward her, pulling down his trousers and boxer shorts.
But his plan did not succeed: the Yeoman of the Guard, dressed in red and gold, fell upon him and knocked the teenager, Barney Keen, down on the lawn. The tackle brought cheers from onlookers. Within seconds, the youth and his family were surrounded by security guards. After a brief investigation, they were released, and the boy's father, Jake Keen, a teacher who had been invited to the July 22 party for his services to education, apologized on his son's behalf.
The incident did not cast a pall on the garden party, and the vast majority of the guests - more than 8,000 - knew nothing at all about it at the time. The queen followed her planned agenda. After all, the royal family's garden parties are among the most sought-after events in Britain.
The royal family sends out about 30,000 invitations annually to the four parties the queen gives every summer. The first of them is held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh at the end of June and the other three at Buckingham Palace in July. One does not request an invitation; the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Luce, who is responsible for the queen's household, sends out invitations in accordance with recommendations sent to his office by various bodies, among them government ministries, the security forces, the diplomatic corps and charitable organizations.
The tradition of the garden parties began in the 1860s, but since the 1950s, the number of parties was increased as part of the royal family's attempt not to be perceived as snobbish. Since then, the guests have come from all classes, and an invitation comes in recognition of contributions to society. Once every few years, the queen holds an additional party, usually to honor the activities of an important organization like the International Red Cross, or to mark an event like the Year of the Disabled.
In 1997, the queen invited couples who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary together with her and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The garden parties follow a rigorously observed pattern. Male guests are required to come wearing suits, without medals or chains of office (apart from national dress, in the case of diplomats or foreign representatives), and the women must wear day dresses and hats. At this party, in the long line that stretched outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, quite a number of top hats, frock coats and carved walking sticks were observed.
The entry hall of the main wing in Buckingham Palace is entirely covered in a deep, soft red carpet. We are greeted by portraits of various generations of royals and nobles, some marble statuary and large sofas. From there, one goes out to the balustraded west terrace leading to the garden. Longs lines of thousands of people stretched there, waiting in predetermined queues for the arrival of the royal party.
At the edge of the garden, stood three large tents: the main tea tent for the general public, the royal tea tent and the diplomatic tea tent. The guests were served a variety of sandwiches, cakes, ice creams and sweets, and Maison Lyons tea, a special blend of leaves made especially for Buckingham Palace, to create a flavor of Muscat grapes and peaches.
Near the royal tent, several well-known guests gathered, among them Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.
At 4 P.M. exactly, the sound of a bell was heard, and the royal entourage, headed by the queen in a pale pink outfit and matching hat, of course, appeared on the balcony. At Elizabeth's side was Prince Philip and behind them, members of their family, among them the heir apparent, Prince Charles, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex (the queen's youngest son Edward and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones). The queen's star grandsons, Princes William and Harry, were not present on the balcony.
The national anthem, "God Save the Queen," was played, and in accordance with the rules of protocol, the members of the royal family stood under the balcony, and some of the guests were presented to them. Then they circulated among the crowd, each choosing a different route among the guests who hastened to make way for them. Apparently, this seems to be an opportunity to exchange a word or two with members of the royal family, but, in fact, it is not. A long line of people waited for a brief exchange of words with the queen and Prince Charles.
In order to be accorded this honor, one cannot just walk up to a prince or a princess and begin a conversation; it is necessary to apply to one of the secretaries, who decides whether to send the applicant on to the personal secretary of the particular member of the royal family, and he, too, must be persuaded that the applicant is worthy of his valuable time.
Prince Edward seemed more accessible than his mother or his brother. His personal secretary, a tall, stern-faced Englishman, agreed to my request to converse with the prince, and wrote down a few basic details on a small piece of paper. "After I present you, you begin to converse with him in the ordinary way, without any unusual courtesies; there is no need to bow," he explained. Edward, a tall man in a brown suit, came over and smiled.
The smile vanished from his royal highness's face, which became serious in response to a question about the criticism to which he and his wife had been subject in the media. About two years ago Rhys-Jones granted a scandalous interview to an undercover reporter from the sensational newspaper News of the World, who pretended to be a potential client of her public relations firm, in which she reportedly insulted members of the royal family and senior politicians and boasted of her company's connections. Prince Edward was criticized for how his production company began to produce a film documenting Prince William's life at university. Both Edward and his wife retired from business. "The criticism was out of place," he said. "That was business activity. We wanted to make a film for the general public. The media did not depict it correctly. I have no doubt the public would have enjoyed it."
He felt, he said, that the media are crossing the line between the private and the public in coverage of the royal family. "The media is mixing between the private and the public life, and indeed the fine line that distinguishes between the two is quite blurred and often ignored by the media. There is a constant intervention on the part of the media into private life," he said, but he hastened to add that he did not believe that the royal family should intervene in the matter. "I don't think it is the royal family's role to educate the media," he said.
After he expressed his reservations about the exaggerated attention paid to his private life, Edward was glad to confirm that he and his wife are expecting a child in December.
At 5:40 P.M. a Concorde flew over the palace. Ten minutes later, the queen left and at six, the national anthem was played again, the sign that the party was over.
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