Why I went to Buckingham Palace

Somewhere in the wee hours of 2024, I received an email from the High Commission of Canada in the UK. It was an invitation to attend one of three annual Royal Garden Parties now held by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. If you’ve seen the Bridgerton series, you’ll be familiar with the coming out parties where aristocratic debutantes are presented to the monarch like pedigree hounds. Begun by Queen Victoria in 1860, these parties used to happen in real life and in modern times have been adapted into a way of recognising individual and collective contributions to British society — charities, artists, veterans etc. Only those who have “made a contribution to their field” are invited to attend, and as Canadian folk song is a very tiny field, but a field none the less, I felt only minor symptoms of imposter syndrome.

I’m not much of a Royal fan, but I freely admit curiosity got the better of me. I love snooping around historic houses and gardens, which is why I spend a lot of time at National Trust properties. Typically they’re quirky, lavish, and deliciously anachronistic with sweeping staircases, hand-painted wall paper and a lot furniture I’m not allowed to sit on. Usually these houses have become too expensive for owners to maintain, so they’re donated and maintained by the charity. The gardens are the kind of place you might find the Queen of Hearts painting the roses red. Buckingham Palace Gardens was to be the wedding cake of anachronism.

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Being Canadian has some perks. For instance, I am eligible for an ancestry visa via my Glaswegian grandparents. Non-commonwealth citizens with British grandparents are ineligible. I was grateful to discover this in March 2020 when my husband and I faced the reality of being separated by an ocean. I have also discovered that Canada is widely considered Britain’s best-behaved colony, closely huddled together with Australia and New Zealand (insert deservedly long conversation about post-colonial responsibility, see below). We spell words like colour, neighbour and theatre sensibly, we named our towns after British cities (compare maps of Ontario and Yorkshire) and provided a generation of post-war British women with squeaky clean heteronormative fantasies in the form of Mounties. Nowhere is our favourite child status more apparent than at Trafalgar Square where Canada House, the headquarters of the High Commission of Canada in the UK, is located. Not just the average terraced building in Belgravia. We got pride of place.

British imperialism, classism and racism are not things of the past. For more, read this article in Dissent Magazine.

This was where, on May 21st, I picked up my invitation to Buckingham Palace Gardens. I could tell the people working there (mostly Brits) were impressed. The fellow working at front security gave me a top-tip on getting into the Royal Ascot. Inside the envelope was some security information and an invitation with my name on it from the Lord Chamberlain. As a Shakespeare nerd, this may have been the highlight of the whole experience. As clouds gathered over Admiral Nelson’s head, I made my way in a hot pink tuxedo to Hyde Park Corner to get in a 1/4 mile-long queue.

The energy was like a wedding, if there has ever been a wedding with seven thousand guests. I passed bishops of the Church of England, one of whom pointed out how we were matching in his deep fuschia cassock. And a sea of fascinators. Written on the invitation, women were encouraged to wear hats or fascinators, to which I objected. If a double breasted jacket is good enough for Chuck 3, it’s good enough for me. I met a mother and son who were both doctors. Sensing they might be the sympathetic kind, I let it slip that I was also a herbalist. The clever and lovely oncologist son asked me, “So do you rummage for herbs?” As this is the most accurate possible summation of what it is I do, I answered “yes.”

Then it began to pour. If I wanted to sneak a rapier into the palace grounds, inside an umbrella would have been a good place to stash it. Thousands of well-dress Brits filed in through the rose beds and hostas and then queue’d. Members of the royal family are known to attend and shake hands with guests, who stand patiently in rows. I snapped a picture of Princess Beatrice and sent it to my mum.

The strangest thing to admit is that I felt disappointed the King wasn’t there. The whole point after all was the monarch honouring my contribution to the music of the commonwealth. Prince William in a top hat and morning coat didn’t impress me in the least. A child of the 90’s, my mum had always been pro-Diana. I remember answering the phone, it was my mum’s friend to tell her about the fatal car accident. I also was raised by a father who taught me that you earn the right to have influence. The royal family weren’t more than tabloid fodder; just one of Britain’s absurd antiquities. However one of my earliest memories is of having tea with my Nana, a born Londoner. She told my cousins and I that one day she would take us to have tea with the Queen. My nana was a glamourous actress, a model and savvy business woman, she had us know. It seemed natural she would be on first names with Elizabeth. She died earlier this year at the age of 93 and I wish I could have told her I was having tea at the Queen’s house. I would have brought her as my guest. She would have stashed cucumber sandwiches in her handbag.

Tour Dates

July 4 Road to Cultivate Concert Series, Port Hope, ON
July 5-6 Northern Lights Festival Boreal, Sudbury, ON
July 8-12 SongRoots Camp, Gambier Island, BC
July 14 Tir Na Nog Theatre, Bowen Island, BC
July 17 Omineca Arts Centre, Prince George, BC with Salt Water Hank
July 18 Music in the Park, Fort St. John, BC
July 22 Laughing Oyster, Powell River, BC with Grant Lawrence and co.
July 24 Hacienda Pascalito, Savary Island BC with Grant Lawrence and co.
July 25 Refuge Cove, BC with Grant Lawrence and co.
July 26 Vinyl Envy, Victoria, BC Canada with Dana Sipos
July 27 Create Arts Festival, Vancouver BC
Aug. 1 Allium Farm, Duncan BC Canada
Aug. 2 Yellowhouse Arts Centre, Galiano Island, BC
Aug. 3-4 Mosaic Festival, Pender Island, BC
Aug. 7 Little Brown Jug, Winnipeg MB
Aug. 8 Ship and Plough, Gimli, MB
Aug. 9-11 Trout Forest Festival, Ear Falls, ON

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