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The day I saw Her Majesty`s hat

December 2004       

 

Amazon book - Elizabeth, The woman and the Queen.THE DAY I SAW HER MAJESTY’S HAT
 
Jenny Lucas reminisces

The invitation to the Royal Garden Party was unlooked for. I prefer my Kings and Queens as remote icons, confined to history books or golden coaches. But being London born and bred, I cannot deny a certain proprietorial responsibility for Buckingham Palace and its occupants, combined with huge curiosity to see beyond the barbed, forbidding garden wall that constantly frustrates the view from the 38 bus. So it was that I found myself one summer’s day on the garden side of the wall.

 

It was a very English affair, like a village fete with extra posh brass bands, but no jumble stalls. There was a good turn-out, the sun shone, and the Queen Mother’s grand herbaceous border was much admired. When the band switched from light entertainment to the National Anthem we knew the Queen and her entourage had joined us.

Across the great lawn, a tiny figure was moving slowly down the palace steps towards the parting waves of her guests. I came over reticent and simply could not bear to to hare across a cricket-pitch expanse of lawn to stare from close quarters, so all I ever saw of my hostess that afternoon was an extremely small person concealed beneath a very large hat. Later on, crossing to the tea tent, I caught a glimpse between morning coats of Prince Philip talking to a group of people as animatedly as though this brief encounter was what he had been waiting for all his life. His listeners radiated pleasure. The only chill that summer day was what I took to be sharp-shooters on the palace roof with gunsights trained on party-frocked guests; a reminder that, in these circles every sunlit day is clouded with dreadful possibility.

It was a pleasure to see that most secret garden; the great old London trees that have survived urban pollution, hurricanes and the blitz, a mulberry tree old enough to have known Samuel Pepys, an unassuming summerhouse with faded well-worn garden chairs, even the giant classical urn used as a prop for Cecil Beaton’s romantic pre-war images of a Queen Consort with parasol; the fairytale before the storm.

But my mind’s eye strayed beyond the garden. I saw myself, aged fourteen, sitting on a groundsheet with my grown-up sister in a rainy Mall,
waiting all day for the coronation coach to pass to the ecstatic roar of the crowd. Then further back in time to mum and me under the stairs during an air-raid; no fear, just the fusty, spicy smell of old raincoats, brooms and candles. This is mixed up in my mind’s eye with newsreel images of the King and Queen in war-time London and the Queen Mother’s hand patting a piece of fallen masonry after a bit of her palace was bombed.

Then when I saw her daughter, that distant figure across the garden, I remembered another image; a tiny, slightly faded black and white photograph of the little princesses, Elisabeth and Margaret Rose, cut out of some magazine and drawing-pinned to the wall of a dingy attic room in Amsterdam. Such a very small detail in that saddest of private places, and yet that frayed image of two utterly nice and normal little girls, all sweetness and bedtime stories, may have helped Anne Frank forget, just for a moment, that other world of legitimised terror waiting for her outside her family’s hiding place.

Outside the royal garden the whole world has changed. I cannot expect a younger generation to understand how, for me, with the weight of my life’s history heavy in my mind, that palace, and its occupant, still has a significance more potent than its bland facade would suggest.

Jenny Lucas is an an award winning documentary film maker. In 1999 she was commissioned to devise and direct a Millennium project for the small village of Laughton in Sussex. Her concept of a community pageant-play and twenty three projects involving all age and interest groups was awarded major Millennium funding.

 


   

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