The Big Question: Why does the Queen host garden parties, and who gets invited?

Why are we asking this now?

Because the far-right British National Party claims that its leader Nick Griffin will be attending one of the upcoming garden parties at Buckingham Palace this summer. For palace officials the claim is a major source of embarrassment because, if Mr Griffin does attend, the BNP will be able to portray itself as a mainstream political group that has been accepted by the monarchy rather than the quasi-fascist fringe group that anti-racism campaigners label it as. It will also significantly boost the party's positive coverage in the run-up to the European elections in which the BNP hopes to get Griffin elected as the party's first MEP.

How did Mr Griffin get invited?

Well technically he hasn't been invited. Richard Barnbrook, a BNP member of the London Assembly, says he will take Mr Griffin to the garden party on July 21 as a guest. Every year tickets are handed out by the Lord Chamberlain's office to members of the London Assembly and priority is given to those who have yet to attend a garden party. Mr Barnbrook hasn't been to a garden party yet and claims he will be given a "double ticket" which allows holders to bring a guest. It is up to those with a ticket to decide who to take along.

Will the Palace let Mr Griffin in?

They probably won't have much of a choice. Mr Barnbrook is a democratically elected City Hall official and he is entitled to invite whoever he wants. But the growing outrage from the public and anti-racism campaigners may force Palace officials to take some sort of action. The whole affair puts the monarchy in something of a quandary. If they ban Mr Barnbrook and Mr Griffin from attending, the BNP will be able to portray themselves as victims of the Establishment. But if they let them attend, the Palace will look like it is giving tacit approval to a party which critics claim is overtly racist and has often been critical of the monarchy.

How has the Palace responded so far?

Initially with a deafening silence. But over the past 24 hours officials have tried to stress that the Queen is not personally involved in extending the invitations for her garden parties – that responsibility lies with the Lord Chamberlain's office. Palace officials also say the invites have yet to go out so they may be looking for a way to sideline Mr Barnbrook. Scotland Yard would also be able to ban anyone they thought might be a security threat to the Queen.

So what exactly is a garden party?

The Royal Garden Parties are held three times a year at Buckingham Palace and once at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh during the summer months. For the Palace, the parties are an opportunity for the royal family to meet and greet a cross-section of British society and thank them for various good deeds they have done. The emphasis is on rewarding the unsung heroes and heroines of British society rather than greeting the usual crowd of toffs and diplomats who regularly hob-nob with the Establishment.

How many people attend and is there a dress code?

Approximately 8,000 people are invited to each party and in order to ensure a cross-section of people attend quotas are reserved for public organisations such as the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, as well as charities and societies. During the Queen's reign, more than 1.1 million people have attended garden parties.

There is a dress code, and you'd stick out like a sore thumb if you decided not to abide by it. Gentlemen are encouraged to wear morning dress or lounge suits while women wear afternoon dress, usually with hats or fascinators. National dress and uniform is also allowed. Smart restraint tends to be the overriding theme. You're unlikely to find the sort of risqué dresses that have begun appearing at Ascot in recent years.

What happens at each party?

Guests are allowed into the grounds at 3pm after a lengthy security search. The tea party takes place in "the garden", which is in fact 40 acres of meticulously sculpted parkland that was first laid out by James I in 1609. The Royal Family enter the garden at 4pm accompanied by a military brass band playing the national anthem. They then circulate through specially formed "lanes" to make sure as many people as possible get to speak to at least one member of the monarchy. After a mammoth bout of "how do you dos" and "how lovelys" the Queen then heads to a royal tent to meet and greet top-tier guests. After that everyone sits down for a nice cup of tea and a sandwich or two.

The catering bill must be rather impressive?

Absolutely. For the three parties at Buckingham Palace alone 400 staff will serve up 81,000 cups of tea, 60,000 sandwiches, 60,000 slices of cake and 30,000 iced coffees. The food is a jamboree of British patriotism; cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, Victoria sponge cake and strawberries and cream. There's no alcohol though, Royal Garden Parties are strictly dry events.

How long has the tradition been going on?

The first Royal Garden Parties were held in the 1860s when Queen Victoria began hosting "breakfasts", despite the fact that they were held in the afternoon. Fuelled by imports of tea from its colonies, British high society had taken afternoon tea breaks to their heart and the monarchy wrapped this into royal tradition by hosting two garden parties a year. In the 1950s a third garden party was added at Buckingham Palace to replace the traditional presentation parties for debutantes which had fallen out of fashion.

Are there any other occasions when parties are hosted?

Yes, every year there is also a garden party for the Not Forgotten Association, a charity for war veterans. But from time to time the Royal Family will host one-off garden parties to commemorate certain events or institutions.

Garden parties have been held to celebrate the Territorial Army's 100th anniversary, the centenary of the British Red Cross's Royal Charter, and the Lambeth Conference, where the world's Anglican bishops meet in Canterbury once every 10 years. In 1997 The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh also put on a garden party for couples who were sharing their golden wedding anniversary with them. A separate party was also held on 2002 on the 6 February to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

If Mr Griffin is invited, what will he talk to the Queen about?

Speaking to The Times, Mr Griffin said he would tell the Queen: "I am a human being and I do not have horns". But he admitted: "I imagine that they [palace organisers] will try and herd Richard and me into some corner and make us talk to the corgies."

Should the Palace ban Nick Griffin?

Yes...

* Griffin has a criminal record and is the leader of a discredited fringe party.

* The BNP is only attending the garden party as a publicity stunt.

* A political party should not be allowed to hijack an apolitical event that is meant to reward unsung heroes of British society.

No...

* Nick Griffin is a British subject and should be allowed to meet his monarch.

* If Buckingham Palace is truly apolitical it will let him attend. Guests' beliefs are irrelevant.

* The damage is already done. Banning the BNP would only make them more popular.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks