The Queen will miss four garden parties held this summer to thank the nation’s great and good.
Other members of the Royal Family will instead represent the 96-year-old monarch at the three ‘hardy annuals’ of the royal calendar at Buckingham Palace and another at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.
Her Majesty, who has mobility issues, has missed several major events this year but has been carrying out virtual engagements and other duties. Garden parties are being staged for the first time in three years.
They are key events in the royal calendar in which those who have served their country or communities are invited to the monarch’s home. That Her Majesty no longer feels able to attend is no great surprise.
But the fact that the palace chose to announce it in a press release almost a week ahead of the first gathering shows how much has changed in the life of our much-loved head of state since last autumn, when someone I know recalls bumping into Her Majesty walking her dogs at Balmoral looking ‘full of beans’ just weeks before she had to spend a night in hospital.
Recognition: The monarch greets guests at a 2018 garden party in Edinburgh
And one courtier I spoke to yesterday said they thought people ‘were looking through the wrong end of the telescope’.
‘I feel people should be saying how well Her Majesty is doing for 96 not the other way around. We have got so used to her doing so much that I think we should start looking at the current situation more positively,’ they said.
Each garden party sees up to 8,000 guests – from all walks of life but united by a common thread of inspirational public service – who are invited to spend a relaxing summer afternoon in the beautiful gardens nibbling on cucumber sandwiches, fruit cake – and, I can personally attest, the most amazing tiny chocolate cakes with edible golden crowns.
At 4pm the Queen, always accompanied by the late Duke of Edinburgh until his retirement and more recently by the Prince of Wales or other senior royals, arrives on the veranda outside the Bow Room, where the national anthem is played by one of the two military bands that entertain guests.
She then has to negotiate ten steep steps down to the lawn before heading into the crowd, along pre-assigned ‘lanes’, stopping to speak to as many members of the public as possible.
Once for debutantes presenting at court, garden parties have evolved into recognising and rewarding community stalwarts, and the Queen sees it as one of her most important duties to thank as many as she can personally.
She ends up in the ‘Royal Tea Tent’ at the other end of the lawn for further polite chit-chat as her guests meander around the grounds, soaking up the atmosphere at one of the most magical moments in their lives.
What about One’s State Opening of Parliament?
Queen Elizabeth II sits on the The Sovereign’s Throne in the House of Lords chamber during the State Opening of Parliament
The Queen still plans to attend the State Opening of Parliament next Tuesday.
But measures are in place to minimise the distance she would have to walk.
Her Majesty will need to walk from a car to the building then through the Robing Room to the Lords Chamber.
She will then have to take three steps up to her throne, from which she delivers her speech.
Buckingham Palace has said the Queen ‘plans to attend’ but that this would be confirmed on the day.
In all, she is on her feet for well over an hour – which is why it is, as I say, unsurprising she no longer feels able to attend. Could she use a golf buggy, as her late mother often used to, or perhaps even the wheelchair she is rumoured to use privately on occasion nowadays?
The answer to that is unlikely. The Queen is a proud and dignified woman and while there is no suggestion that anyone who uses a walking aid isn’t either of those things, the Queen has just never liked to make adjustments for inevitable age-related frailties in public.
And like many older people, she simply finds conversations easier one-on-one nowadays rather than amid a large crowd.
What is striking, however, is the matter-of-fact manner of the announcement – by email – as Buckingham Palace revealed the dates of this year’s parties.
It read: ‘Her Majesty The Queen will be represented by other members of the Royal Family at this year’s garden parties, with details on attendance to be confirmed in due course.’
Aides openly confirmed that the format of the parties, in terms of the length of time they last and the traditional amount of time standing, as being ‘key factors’ in her non-attendance.
Even just a year ago, the merest hint by a correspondent that the monarch could be starting to feel her age risked bringing a bucket-load of opprobrium down on their head.
Even the obvious tweaks to her schedule in recent years, such as her decision to stop wearing the weighty imperial crown for the State Opening of Parliament or taking the lift rather than stairs, came with stern warnings ‘not to read too much into them’.
Well into her eighties, Her Majesty would insist on taking the stairs as much as possible – resulting in one particularly awkward moment for me when I was covering an event in the City of London while heavily pregnant. We got stuck on a stairwell and I