Royal anniversary celebrated with 'people's banquet'

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The Independent Online
The Queen celebrated her golden wedding anniversary in new style yesterday. The first of the "People's Banquets", with guests guests from all walks of life, reflected the Royal Family's newfound informality.

The ordinary mortals invited to dine at high table with the Queen and Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, were given no clues about protocol. They were, however, soon put at their ease.

Nerys Owen, 47, director of nursing for Gwynedd, was so excited when she realised she had been given a place at "Top Table A" that she fell over and lost a pearl earring.

"I felt very humbled but the Prime Minister and the Queen made me feel very relaxed," she said. "They were very good company and wanted to know about community nursing."

In her speech at the Banqueting House in Whitehall, the Queen made a heartfelt pledge to respond more closely to what her people are telling her. "For us, a Royal Family, the message is often harder to read, obscured as it can be by deference, rhetoric or the conflicting currents of public opinion. But read it we must.

"I have done my best, with Prince Philip's constant love and help, to interpret it correctly through the years of our marriage and of my reign as your queen. And we shall, as a family, together try to do so in the future."

The Queen sat with Mr Blair and the jockey Walter Swinburn. Their table included a policewoman, a car assembly worker and a nurse.

The Duke of Edinburgh sat with Cherie Blair and had animated conversations with a farmer, a community worker and a midwife. John Major introduced the England cricket captain, Michael Atherton, to the singer Kate Bush and the ballerina Darcey Bussell; Shirley Bassey sat alongside the Lord Mayor of Belfast; and tennis ace Tim Henman shook hands with General Sir Charles Guthrie as he congratulated him on his recent successes.

The Queen and Mr Blair, her tenth Prime Minister, went on a leisurely joint walkabout from noon drinks at 10 Downing Street to the Government's anniversary present of lunch.

At a thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey, Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, blessed the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh's long and successful union. He said: "Our Queen, with the profound sustaining of her husband's encouragement and support, has carried out her duties through all of these with distinction, courage, sacrifice and, tolerance. - Clare Garner