The Royal Family does a great deal of entertaining, including state, official and private events.
KEY ROYAL EVENTS
The events most familiar to the general public are state banquets, which are almost always on the first night of a state visit by an overseas head of state, and garden parties, which are held during the summer, both at Buckingham Palace and at Holyrood in Scotland, and occasionally at other locations. A huge range of people, often those involved in charitable or public service roles, the armed forces, showbusiness and the arts, are asked to garden parties. Then there are lunches, both formal and informal, often themed, for example to honour those who have worked or served in certain sectors, such as industry or the arts. Lastly there are drinks receptions.
On occasion there have been huge concerts or extravaganzas to celebrate landmarks such as the Diamond Jubilee. In addition to these there are investitures, which may also include a reception. Events such as investitures are hosted by The King, the Prince of Wales or the Princess Royal , deputising for the Sovereign. Other events may be hosted by other members of the Royal Family.
There are also a number of smaller events throughout the year, hosted by various more junior members of the Royal Family, for example as patrons of their charities, which may be held at Buckingham Palace or elsewhere. For example, the Princess Royal might host an event to thank supporters of Riding for the Disabled at the Royal Mews, next to Buckingham Palace, or the Earl of Wessex may use St James's Palace for a reception for those involved in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
Personal friends of the Royal Family may be asked to lunch, to dinner or to stay at Balmoral in the summer or Sandringham for the shooting in the winter. Individuals or sponsors are hosted at sporting events, such as the polo or the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Young Guards' officers may be invited to dinner or drinks at Windsor Castle. While there will almost always be plenty of notice given, anyone encountering a member of the Royal Family unexpectedly in a social situation should just try to behave naturally but with courtesy.
The key point for anyone receiving an invitation (technically a command when it comes from the Sovereign) is that it will include comprehensive guidance as to what form the event will take. The aim of the Royal Household is to make people comfortable and ensure they have a good experience. Guests are told exactly when to arrive and given advice about what to wear. Any special request can be accommodated, such as wheelchair access or food allergies.
Once at the event, members of the Royal Household are on hand to guide guests throughout. The net result is that people are far less likely to encounter any awkward moments at a royal event than at some other formal events where the hosts may be less experienced. The key recommendation is to relax, follow instructions and not to drink too much alcohol because of overexcitement or nervousness.
The modern tone of the monarchy is to be accepting and open. However, those invited to royal events usually want to do their best to be correct. Specific dress codes, such as black tie, should be adhered to.
It is generally best to err on the more conservative side when interpreting dress codes
. For example, if black tie is specified, then women may want to wear a long dress, rather than a short cocktail dress, and not choose fabrics which are transparent or in other ways very revealing. It is not always necessary to wear hats with day dress at more informal lunches. By the same token, although more women opt for dresses or skirts, trouser suits are acceptable. The key thing is to ask for extra guidance, which is given readily by the relevant office (noted on the invitation).
Decorations should be worn at formal events, such as state banquets, especially if the decoration was one awarded by The King. Instructions are written on the invitation. Rules for the wearing of, for example, papal decorations or memberships of other orders should be checked and may not be correct.
State banquets are also the moment to wear tiaras, if you have them, or other jewellery, but it is not essential to struggle to acquire finery. Being as neat and tidy as possible, which costs nothing, is more important.
for a guide to wearing orders, medals and decorations.
Royal events vary in their format, but guests should arrive punctually. They are then shown into a large reception room. Once guests have assembled, the Royal Family arrives, often with no fanfare. If it is an event attended by a large number of royal persons they enter in reverse order, most junior to most senior, with The King last of all.
Those who are to be presented are discreetly marshalled into position by members of the Royal Household, who will have been circulating. The usual form is a series of semi-circles rather than straight rows like a formal receiving line. Guests should try to be empty-handed, having put down any drinks or bags. Women should curtsy and men bow from the neck. The royal personage will offer their hand, in which case shake it with a light contact. Answer any question posed but do not launch into a subject or talk at any length as this holds up the proceedings.
It is made very clear when the event is over. This will have been indicated on the invitation and guests may notice that the royal personages have quietly made their exit before members of the Household start to steer people away. By tradition guests should not leave before any of the Royal Family. If it is essential to leave before members of the Royal Family, then a guest should let the relevant private office know in advance.
In practice, at a large reception, held, for example, in the long enfilade of rooms at St James's Palace, guests may simply be able to slip away.
ROYAL GARDEN PARTIES
Buckingham Palace garden parties are held in the afternoon and there are a set number that are organised every year. There are also Scottish garden parties, and sometimes others in particular years, for example at Sandringham.
At Buckingham Palace guests arrive from 3.15pm and are shown into its huge gardens. The royal party arrives punctually at 4pm and a band plays the National Anthem. The royal party usually splits up and circulates among the throng, with lanes of people formed by the Bodyguard for The King.
Guests may be picked out and brought forward to be presented by members of the Household (males always have rolled umbrellas) or other attendants. If this happens it is correct to explain briefly who you are to the member of the Royal Household who will present you: 'Your Majesty, Lady Victoria Smythe, chairman of the Friends of the Elderly in Buckinghamshire.' It is also best practice to mention it if you have encountered the member of the Royal Family before. For example, 'I had the honour of being presented to Your Majesty at the opening of our drop-in centre five years ago, sir'
Anyone who feels strongly that a colleague or associate should be presented, maybe because their work has been outstanding, may approach a member of the Household, perhaps a lady-in-waiting, and ask if that person may be presented.
Tea is served in various marquees. Ordinary guests just queue up to be served and are then free to wander at will. The gardens at Buckingham Palace are well worth taking advantage of, with their lakes, borders and wooded areas, as they are not otherwise open to the public. Some preselected individuals, for example ambassadors, are invited to have tea with the royal party at five o'clock in a designated tent or location. Shortly before six the royal party returns to the palace and the National Anthem is played again, signalling that the party is ending. Guests are shepherded towards the exits.
It is not considered necessary to write a thank-you letter after a royal garden party. For other events guests may write to the person who asked them, that is whose name was on the invitation, such as the Lord Steward of the Household or, in the case of formal or state events, the Lord Chamberlain. In the letter a guest may ask him to 'kindly convey my/our thanks to His Majesty The King.'
Photography is not permitted officially in royal palaces. For most events there is an official photographer from whom photographs may be ordered, and many occasions will be videoed, with the film for sale as a souvenir. Cameras may be removed in palaces. With the advent of smartphones people inevitably do take photographs but these should have no place at more formal events and are frowned upon at garden parties. Any photographs to mark the occasion should be taken outside the gates before the event begins.
ROYAL GUESTS OF HONOUR
SECURING A ROYAL GUEST OF HONOUR
Naturally, individual members of the Royal Family may be entertained privately by their friends. In addition, those involved with charities, institutions or organisations may wish to entertain a member of the Royal Family at some point. The extended Royal Family is numerous and each person has a number of charitable patronages and other special interests or causes, with many of them carrying out hundreds of engagements each year, often several in one day.
If an organisation wishes to secure a royal guest of honour, a request would normally be sent to the private office of that member of the Royal Family for consideration or to the lord lieutenant of their county. Since they are usually very booked up, it is sensible to allow plenty of time. Priority is usually given to a cause with which the member of the Royal Family is associated, but occasionally they may agree to attend something which catches their attention or seems worthwhile.
Once a request has been accepted in outline, the private office guides the potential host through all the formalities such as wording invitations, timings and what form the event is to take. The private office should approve the wording before an invitation is printed. No one should ever indicate that the royal personage is the host as opposed to the guest of honour. Usually the wording would be, for example, 'in the gracious presence of His Majesty The King'. Once a request has been accepted in outline, the private office guides the potential host through all the formalities such as wording invitations, timings and what form the event is to take. The private office should approve the wording before an invitation is printed. No one should ever indicate that the royal personage is the host as opposed to the guest of honour. Usually the wording would be, for example, 'in the gracious presence of His Majesty The King'.
It is essential to allow as much time as possible for this part of the process and to adhere to the advice proffered by the private office. Organisers may need to be somewhat flexible and may not get all they ask for. Hosts should brief their own guests and staff on behaviour and be well organised, so that as many people as possible will get a clear view of the royal visitor, that the right people are presented and that no one takes more than their fair share of attention.
If a royal personage has been a guest of honour then the organiser should write to thank the private secretary afterwards, asking them to pass on thanks on behalf of himself and the organisation or institution. Guests would normally thank the organiser and not feel called upon to thank the royal personage.