Every year The Queen hosts a diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace. It is a private event for the diplomatic corps in London, along with special guests who are at the top of their field such as business leaders, celebrities and even astronauts. This year’s reception took place on Tuesday 5th December and I was lucky enough to attend. I would like to say that I’m invited as one of the “great and good”, but I don’t think that Her Majesty is aware that this Albanian singer is in town. I attend because my husband is part of the protocol team that ensures the event runs smoothly whilst us spouses and partners enjoy a drink and mix with the guests. And I get to check out the fashion, from wonderful national dress of the diplomat’s home country to beautiful and expensive gowns probably bought or hired on London’s King’s Road.
This is my first ever blog and, hey, what a theme to start with; talking about my visit to one of the world’s most famous homes. I get many questions from friends, family and fans who are curious about this royal event, so what better way to share my experience with you all than through my first blog.
It takes a lot of effort to get ready for this event. Preparations start weeks in advance. What am I going to wear? I need the right shoes! What am I going to do with my hair? Oh accessories! And there are rules to be followed. It’s easy for the men. It’s a white tie event and they have little choice. Shiny black shoes, black trousers, black jacket (with a long tail – they look like penguins) and a white bow tie. For us ladies, however, it isn’t so easy. The dress can’t be all black. OK, I understand this one, we’re not at a funeral. If your dress has an open back and open shoulders you need a shawl (a big scarf) and long gloves to your elbow. If you have sleeves then you can wear short gloves covering the hands only. No hats, unless of course a hat is part of your national dress, and you can wear a tiara, but only if you’re married.
I found a beautiful dress. Baby blue in colour with a long train flowing behind. But the more I thought about the length of the dress the more I thought about the high likelihood I may trip over and provide an unexpected show in front of London’s diplomatic community. This isn’t how you want to be remembered. So, I went for a more practical piece, purple and sparkly and ankle length. A smart move which I didn’t regret. Honestly. Really.
To the joy of my husband, the chosen dress had sleeves. Finding small gloves was easy. Last year he went above a beyond the call of duty, spending several evenings with me searching for elbow length gloves around the south east of England. Two of the UK’s largest shopping malls didn’t stock them. He found them on Oxford Street – he really doesn’t like Oxford Street – with only hours to spare. We agreed to be better prepared this year.
We all get ready for the event at Lancaster House, a magnificent building a short walk across Green park from the Palace. You may not know it but there is a good chance you have seen it on television or the big screen often made up to imitate Buckingham Palace. “The Kings Speech” and Netflix’ “the Crown” are two examples. And for those of you who have seen pictures of me at the event, well, they are taken at Lancaster House as photography at the Palace is not allowed. I bet I fooled you.
I arrive at the Palace early. This way I can enjoy a “red carpet” moment, as I call it. We enter the Palace through the main gates and walk through a large courtyard before entering an impressive hall and walking up a very grand staircase and into a remarkable gallery. It isn’t long before we’re joined by an impressive selection of beautiful evening dresses and some rather flamboyant national costumes. I like to try and guess where the costumes are from, although one gentlemen looks like he has just got out of bed. “What a clever costume” I think to myself. He can go home and doesn’t have to get changed for bed. I know it’s a little mean but I can’t help myself. I never did find out where he was from.
Where are you from? This is usually the icebreaker at an event like this. Spain? South America? They’re rarely expecting me to say Albania although there is always a lot of interest when they find out. There is a lot of standing around at an event like this so plenty of time to “hobnob” as the Brits say (it means to mix socially, especially with those of a higher social status). Ambassadors, and their family, line the incredible rooms of Buckingham Palace to meet Her Majesty who, this year, was joined by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (Charles and Camilla), and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate). Prince Philip was absent for the first time, having retired earlier this year. Nonetheless, its Princess Kate who steals the show. When she enters the room faces light up and eyes sparkle. “Isn’t she stunning”, “I love her dress”, and this year, “look at her little bump” (she’s pregnant for those who may not know). You can’t deny she looks every bit a princess. Tall, elegant, classy. It was the same last year, and the year before. As the royal family move along the line of Ambassadors Kate falls behind. They all want to talk to her for as long as possible. And she obliges.
There was also one question on everyone’s lips. Would Prince Harry make an appearance with his fiancé Meghan Markle. As a fan of “Suits” – the television series Ms Markle stars in – I have to admit I hoped they would. They didn’t.
I had a chat with two young and very attractive sisters who were there to support their Father, the ambassador of … (not allowed to say I’m afraid). The older sister was devastated by the news of Harry’s engagement. Jokingly, she said that she’d attended the event for the last three years just to meet Harry. She was certain that had it happened Meghan would still be single. I loved her confidence and honesty. It was the type of conversation you have with friends in a bar, although we were in the fancy surroundings of Harry’s grandmother’s home instead.
I start feeling very at home when I see the Albanian and Kosovan Ambassadors, and their wives, and start to have a chat and a gossip in Albanian, in the middle of Buckingham Palace. I love it. Time now to head to the dining room, where a delicious buffet is served. Chicken or fish? It looks so good, I think I’ll have some of both, and the chocolate dessert, thank you. It’s then off to the Ball Supper Room for a dance, but my heels have got the better of me and I decide to take a seat and watch some of the moves. The military band plays a little jazz. It’s as if I’m on the set of a 1920’s movie. At 11 sharp the band plays the national anthem. That famous drum roll followed by “God save our gracious Queen …”, who, I expect, is tucked up in bed by now. Everyone stands to attention. The music ends and there is a mass exodus. Time to go home to my own palace - we can’t stay here - and take off these shoes - and get back to reality.