Many thanks to chorister Andy Friedman for taking the time to write about his experience at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately there isn’t a photo of Andy available.
Buckingham Palace! We are in London to give a performance at the garden party in honour of Prince Charles 70th birthday. We were chosen to be the Welsh choir to sing at this event and very excited we all are. Special fuss is being made in the media because it is Harry and Megan’s first formal duty since the wedding … and since our performance at the Royal Albert Hall three days ago!
It is not as I had imagined. Singing at the Palace garden party for Charles’ birthday, I saw us on the steps of the entrance to the Palace in front of an intimate group of celebrity champagne quaffers. In my mind’s eye, the happy few would be close to where we would be standing, many stopping their conversation to listen to our singing and staring up at us in rapture.
I am astounded by the size of the neatly clipped grass expanse in front of the palace entrance. I wonder how we will be heard over such a huge open space as we stroll from the security entrance to the grand building itself. This will be a garden party on a scale far beyond that of my commoner’s imagining. And I was even more impressed by the space when it was filled – close to 7,000 people, as rumour had it!
We are waiting in a holding room chomping on a very nice packed lunch: amusing ourselves with chatter about the quality of the sandwiches, the beautifully appointed loos, and to great amusement, the surprise injection into our choir of our own two new female choristers: Penny and Sue. Maurice Penny had been entered on the roster as Penny Maurice. Because the ID did not match the man, he was not allowed through security, at least until phone calls were made. We had to bring two pieces of ID to get through the check point. Another of our choir (who shall remain nameless) arrived with only one piece of identification, a passport. Worse than that, it was not his own. He discovered to his horror that he had brought his partner Sue’s passport. Fortunately after even more phone calls, (s)he was allowed into the grounds. So the Caldicot Male Voice Choir is a mixed choir today.
Eventually we got the word to change into our blazers and greys and marched across the huge grounds to a spot in front of a large tent about ¼ mile away from the stairs from which the royal party eventually looked out on the crowd. The crowd is not of celebrities, again unexpected, but rather representatives of the many causes the Prince of Wales supports as well as his military connections. Between us and the royal party is a palate of crazy colours: Gurkhas in their lively browns, flashy red and white Beefeaters, incredibly tall ushers in black suits who stood out even more owing to the large black stove pipe hats they wore, men and women in kilts, and even a small group of Scots Canadians in green tops and kilts. Ladies dress in all fashions and colours.
Directly in front of us is a large roped off empty semi-circle of grass. Around the outside of that semi-circle is a row of chairs and for several hours people have been sitting there drinking tea and lemonade. By the time we are to sing, the area behind that circle towards the palace is packed. All are standing, craning their necks to see Harry in the distance giving his speech honouring his father and celebrating the charities he has supported over the decades. So when our time finally came, we sang our hearts out to the backs of thousands. The wind did not help our voices to carry forward, Shirl struggled with the sheets of music, Shaun struggled with bits of her outfit, John struggled with the Caldicot stand that fell over. Great professionalism was shown by the choir director team in adversity. I must admit my eyes wandered from our conductor’s hands to the gap in the semi-circle anticipating the Royals to enter through it. They did not appear.
But then it all changed.
After our performance we are ushered into the tent we were standing in front of. A really fantastic tea was provided with great fancy savoury and sweet creations. Still no royalty. But then we noticed a small table in a corner on which was a gleaming gold tea service and lots of glasses of lemonade, barley water or champagne. Clearly for royalty and sure enough eventually they arrived.
7,000 people in the ‘garden’ but only maybe 150 select performers in the tent. Charles and Camilla arrived, had drinks and then wandered amongst us. In the end I think Charles shook hands and spoke to at least half of the people in the tent. It was brilliant. He was gracious and spoke to all with intent and without making anyone feel that he was anxious to move on to the next person. I was struck by his professionalism. The skill of making what he was doing appear natural and, well, easy.
I shook his hand and to try to penetrate the professionalism I commented that as a father it must have made him feel good to have his son compliment him like that. (I wanted to say that I would have been very proud to have my son wax on about my accomplishments while I’m still alive). Harry was effusive on his father’s influence through the hundreds of charities he acted as patron for. Harry also addressed his father as ‘pa’. Charles just said he had told Harry that this event was supposed to be about the causes and charities, not about him. Oh modesty!
I was talking to the Prince with another choir member beside me and we both told Charles we had been singing a lot lately as we were at the Albert Hall just a few days ago. ‘Pa’ said we must be careful not to strain our voices and suggested gargling. Then he asked about our conductor and we said we have two conductors and they are both women and they are both terrific. We all smiled and Charles moved on; after shaking Sue’s hand.