Have you ever been to dinner at Buckingham Palace? Me neither. So come along with me to see what a State dinner looks like.
Since 1914, State Banquets have been held in the Ballroom. The Ballroom is 120 feet long, 59 feet wide and 44 feet high.
The size of the Ballroom's horseshoe-shaped dining table can be adjusted. For a State Banquet is it is usually set at 28 feet across the top, seating 15. Each side is 78 feet long seating 78. (That means each guest is allowed 1 foot of space at the table. What those elbows!)
The table is covered with seven linen tablecloths of finely woven damask. The front of The Queen's table is dressed with damask festoons, a tradition that dates back to George IV's coronation banquet.
There are always displays of fruit on the tables. These include grapes, pineapples, plums, and nectarines. The candelabra and flower stands are placed on mirror plateaux reflecting the gleam of the gilt plate and the candlelight.
The table napkins are usually folded into a Dutch bonnet style. The napkins are crucial in working out the measurements of the place settings. They are the first items placed on the table. The Yeoman of the China and Glass Pantries folds each napkin himself.
Staff begin setting the table 2 days before the banquet. Each place setting includes 6 glasses - one each for red wine, white wine, water, port and 2 for champagne - 1 for the toast and 1 for the pudding course - a side plate, glass butter dish, 2 knives, 2 forks, dessert spoon and fork, and a butter knife. A knife, fork and spoon are provided with the fruit course. A salt, mustard pot and pepper caster are placed between every 4 guests. For 170 guests over 2,000 pieces of cutlery are needed to serve and eat the meal.
The 1,014 glasses used were made at Stourbridge for The Queen's coronation in 1953 and are engraved with the EIIR cipher. Queen Victoria's Minsen plates are used for the pudding course.
The Queen always makes a pre-dinner check to make sure everything is as it should be. She can spot a place setting a 1/2" out of place at 50 paces!
There are usually 23 flower arrangements on the banquet table and 9 larger arrangements around the ballroom. The team of flower arrangers spend around 36 hours preparing the flowers.
Each guest receives a booklet when they arrive. The booklet contains a guest list, a menu and wine list, the music that will be played and a seating plan with a coloured dot indicating their place at the table. The booklets are decorated with the ribbon in the national colours of the visiting nation.
The visiting dignitary is seated on the Queen's right, Prince Philip to the Queen's left. The spouse of the dignitary is seated on Prince Philips left. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is seated on the dignitary's right. The Prince of Wales is seated to the left of the dignitary's spouse. Also in attendance is usually The Princess Royal, Princess Anne and her husband, The Duke of York, The Earl and Countess of Wessex, The Duke and Duchess of Kent, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. They are seated throughout the tables so everyone is within a close proximity of an HRH.
The end of the banquet is signalled by the arrival of 12 pipers, from the Scots or Irish Guards accompanied by The Queen's Piper. This tradition dates from the days of Queen Victoria who was the first monarch to employ a full time Piper. Recently The Queen found these State Dinners were lasting too long. After consultation with the appropriate people, it was decided to do away with the soup course. This cuts 20 minutes off the length of the banquet.
I found this collection of videos that shows all the preparations to make a successful State Banquet.
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