LONDON, ENGLAND – “Nice picnic baskets,” I comment as the couple move over to make room for me.
We’re waiting for our trains departing from the bustling and impressively improved King’s Cross railway station.
“We won the lottery for the Jubilee Picnic in the Palace,” Tina Smith confides conspiratorially with a wide grin. Clearly still basking in the fun of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, she – like all folks encountered during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – was delighted to share the tale.
“Tell all!” I command.
“Well, I almost missed it,” she laughs. Tina and Dave hail from Lincolnshire. They had planned to celebrate her birthday in London on Jubilee weekend.
Throwing their names into the Picnic in the Palace Lottery was a long shot… until her mobile rang during dinner on the Thursday before the big weekend.
“I nearly didn’t bother to answer! I’m glad I did! We couldn’t believe it. We won the tickets!” They laugh at the memory. “Look. I even had my nails done red, white, and blue!”
“We were all eyes as we went through Buckingham Palace to the gardens. It was wonderful!”
The gardens, she reports, are even more beautiful than pictures depicted.
Opening the picnic basket wrapped in the red and embossed the royal insignia; she pulls out flutes, cutlery and so on. Champagne, chilled soup, Scottish salmon, chicken in sauce, strawberry trifle , a selection of cakes, a full selection of English cheeses and, later in the afternoon, ice cream.
“Delicious!” was the verdict.
Princess Anne, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex (Prince Edward’s wife) and Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, were among the many royals who stopped to chat.
“It was all so relaxed and laid back,” recall the couple. “Everyone was so nice and welcoming, they really were.”
While I was stuck at the end of the packed Mall next to St. James’ Park for the evening Jubilee concert and fireworks, Dave and Tina were comfortably seated front and centre on the Buckingham Palace gate stands surrounding Winged Victory. The tickets where part of the free lottery package.
“It makes you feel so proud to be British,” Tina tells me as we say goodbye. “We feel honoured. Not many countries have this, or even could if they tried. It was really nice. And, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world.”
Graeme and Patricia Houghton, from Kentucky, seated nearby, also came for the Jubilee. Graeme, a retired mechanical aerospace engineer, and Patricia, who retired from K-Mart management, are avid Princess Cruise Line cruisers.
Friends they met on a cruise invited them stay in London for the Jubilee.
Because they cruise a lot – they were going home on the Queen Mary – they tell me about their large circle of cruising friends who visit each other’s homes around the world.
They plan to live year-round aboard the Star Princess.
“Princess has a department dedicated to residents only,” Graeme tells me and, he says, Princess group insurance works for the couple, too. For $57,535 per year the couple, who have no children, feel it’s a good deal.
And how did they enjoy London and the celebrations?
“Absolutely wonderful! We had a hop on hop off pass. Everything was so easy. We’re so glad we came.”
For me, this London trip was a unique walk down memory lane. Crowds were friendly and fun – right down to the massive security contingent. Armed with an Oyster pass for buses and tubes I just added funds to it when required. Buy it on arrival at Heathrow – and London is your oyster.
– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis was a guest at the elegant St. Ermin’s Hotel so handy to St. James’s Park and Westminster Abbey, and travelled Vancouver-Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic. To plan your trip go to www.VisitBritain.com