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Buckingham Palace exhibition reveals secrets of Queen's banquets

Published 24/07/2015

Guests eat at a horseshoe shaped table
Guests eat at a horseshoe shaped table

The secrets of staging a lavish Buckingham Palace state banquet are laid bare in a new summer exhibition.

Visitors to the Queen's official London home will get a glimpse of the work needed to transform the palace's ballroom into a breath taking venue for hosting presidents and prime ministers.

All aspects of the great occasion from laying the enormous horse-shoe table to preparing the wines and inviting guests are chronicled in the exhibition A Royal Welcome.

Anna Reynolds, a Royal Collection Trust curator, said attention to detail was crucial for a state banquet with preparations beginning around six months ahead.

Mrs Reynolds, the exhibition's curator, added: "It's that element of uniformity that makes the spectacle so special, it's having everything exactly, precisely aligned."

Pointing to one of the exhibits she added: "These are the actual measuring sticks that the footman's team use to make sure every chair is exactly the same distance down the table, that each glass is the same distance from the front edge of the table, and that really creates the magic."

It takes the team three days to lay the table with just 46cm allocated for each of the 170 dinner guests.

They spend their time laying out table cloths and napkins - folded in the shape of a Dutch bonnet - cruet sets, flower decorations, candelabra and six glasses - for water, a champagne toast, red and white wines, a dessert wine and port.

Visitors can see part of the table laid out as it was for the state banquet held for Singapore's president Tony Tan Keng Yam last October, with the rest half finished to give an idea of the process.

On banquet nights 19 stations are set up around the table each manned by four staff - a page, footman, under butler and a wine butler - who use a traffic light system to co-ordinate the serving of courses.

The exhibition also features a partial recreation of the palace's wine cellar which holds around 25,000 bottles, but the alcohol drunk at state banquets does not come from this source but is bought for the event with the Government paying.

The exhibition gives visitors a sense of what it is like to be a banquet guest and also attend other major occasions like an investiture where MBEs and Knighthoods are presented or a garden party.

For the first time the public will arrive at the palace's summer exhibition through the grand entrance used by the Queen and her guests during events.

Dresses worn by the Queen at garden parties will also be on display and there is a mock-up of the monarch's in-house couture workshop, complete with sewing machine and fabrics that will be used for future royal outfits.

During state visits gifts are exchanged between the Queen and her guest and one present on display is a Mexican tree of life sculpture presented by the nation's president Enrique Pena Nieto earlier this year.

The exhibition A Royal Welcome forms part of a visit to the summer opening of the palace's state rooms which are open from tomorrow until September 27.

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