A royal banquet at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle is a grand affair. Heads of state, Britain’s aristocracy and a whole host of important dignitaries have had the pleasure of dining with the monarch over the years.
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With King Charles III set to preside over his first state banquet as monarch on Tuesday night to welcome South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa to the UK, we’re sure Buckingham Palace is due to be a visual spectacle. We imagine grand table settings, the finest food and fascinating regal chit chat over goblets of the world’s best wines (OK, we’re getting a bit carried away with goblets, but it all sounds so fancy).
WATCH: Buckingham Palace staff prepare for a state banquet!
If you’ve ever wondered exactly what a state banquet at the palace involves, we have all the details for you – from the positioning of cutlery to what to wear and who you can and can’t speak to. Yes, there are rules for this.
1. The royals are professionals when it comes to hosting state visits. The monarch will inspect the horseshoe-shaped table themsevles in the afternoon before the banquet, checking the preparations with the Master of the Household.
2. Banquets take a long time to prepare for – six months in fact. It also takes palace staff three days to lay the table!
An impressive banquet for the President of Ireland at Windsor
3. The table settings are fascinating. Napkins are folded in the shape of a Dutch bonnet and there are six glasses for each person – for water, a champagne toast, red and white wines, dessert wine and port, which are all carefully placed in order.
4. Now, this is precise: every place setting must be precisely 18 inches apart – with measuring sticks used to ensure absolute precision.
5. The monarch’s footmen ensure sure every chair is exactly the same distance from the table and each glass is the same distance from the front edge of the table.
6. Nineteen stations are set up around the table, each manned by four staff – a page, footman, under butler and a wine butler.
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The late Queen makes a toast during a banquet at Windsor Castle
7. Staff use a traffic light system to co-ordinate the serving of courses.
8. Detailed diagrams are used to illustrate the serving plans and a list of special instructions sets out any dietary requirements and requests for royals and other guests.
9. Palace staff have instructions to place a special cushion on the king’s seat to ease his back pain. King Charles also has a bowl of olive oil instead of butter for his bread.
10. There is a dress code for state banquets: formal gowns, often white tie, and tiaras for the ladies. National dress is also worn.
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The Countess of Wessex arrives at a state banquet at the palace
11. The royal family wear sashes and badges known as orders if they have been given them in recognition of royal service.
12. Before dinner, speeches take place followed by toasts and the playing of the national anthems.
13. A string orchestra usually provides the musical backdrop to the banquet.
14. During the meal, guests are advised to start with the silverware that is on the outside of their place setting and work their way in.
15. The former Queen was known to be a fast eater. There is actually a rule that stipulates when the monarch finishes their meal, everyone else must also put their knife and fork down too.
The Queen sits beside the Duchess of Cornwall at a state banquet
16. It is important to note which side of the monarch you are sitting on. It is customary for the guest of honour to sit to the right of the monarch and it follows that he will speak to that person during the first course of the dinner. He will then switch his attention to the person on his left for the following course.
17. Guests should also never leave an event before a royal unless special permission has been granted, and one should avoid any personal questions – polite small talk will suffice.
18. You should also never touch the King and only shake his hand if he offers it.
19. Do you know how to hold a teacup correctly? The correct way is to hold the top of your cup handle with your thumb and index finger and only sip from the same spot, to avoid multiple lipstick marks.
20. The end of the banquet is signalled by the arrival of 12 pipers processing round the room – a tradition that originated with Queen Victoria.
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21. Former royal chef Graham Tinsley MBE told HELLO! that if the former Queen attended a heads of state banquet, then all the chefs had to meet at a police station and get a motorcycle ride into the castle or palace – for added security.
“For higher calibre banquets, we’re required to put all our food, containers, knives and kitchen equipment through an X-ray machine whilst motorcycles then take us into the castle,” explained Graham.
22. Some banquets with an elite guest list are even given code names to protect their security!
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