IT WAS the most regal of picnics, a platter of finger food to be consumed with the pinkie pointed out.
Thousands of guests sat down to a feast in the gardens of Buckingham Palace yesterday ahead of the star-studded concert in honour of the Diamond Jubilee.
The palace grounds were filled with ballot winners, who had won tickets to the evening show. But first they were to enjoy a sumptuous picnic filled with a menu created by the combined culinary skills of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal and the Queen’s royal chef, Mark Flanagan.
Blumenthal is famous for his scientific approach to cooking, while Mr Flanagan and his kitchen team specialise in scale and catered for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding last year.
The palace is used to hosting large garden parties, and yesterday easily accommodated the 12,000 guests – 10,000 of whom were ballot winners and 2,000 from charities associated with the Royal Family.
In bright summer sunshine, the picnickers sat on the Queen’s lawn and opened their wicker baskets, which contained tea-smoked Scottish salmon, a modern take on coronation chicken and Sandringham strawberry crumble crunch. There were also two cupcakes and a small cheeseboard with biscuits and chutney, among other items.
The food was washed down with a selection of drinks – Moët & Chandon champagne, Cobra beer and Hildon’s water. Chefs from Waitrose worked with Blumenthal and Mr Flanagan in developing the menu, which was delivered by a convoy of eight articulated lorries.
The perfectly manicured lawns of Buckingham Palace are normally deserted. Stretching across 40 acres, the neat grassland gives the royal residence its feeling of quietude and serenity. But yesterday the Queen’s back yard underwent a transformation as the thousands of concert-goers trooped through the gardens chatting and laughing, ready to party.
Though cloudy and windy, the weather was considerably better than on Sunday, when revellers at the pageant endured downpours along the banks of the Thames.
Among those who attended was Pam Smith, a Jubilee baby who celebrated her 60th birthday yesterday.
She praised the event a few moments before a few drops of rain were felt. Guests quickly put up umbrellas and others put on their ponchos that were supplied – aptly – in the picnic hamper. But a while later the sun came out to banish any fears that a shower was on the way.
Mrs Smith from Huddersfield in Yorkshire said: “It’s absolutely amazing, so many people applied for tickets I couldn’t believe it when I got one and the sun is shining as well. It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
Mrs Smith added: “It’s just been wonderful to be part of it all. The Queen means everything. Politicians come and go, but she doesn’t.”
Debby Smith, 43, from Manchester, gave a mixed reaction to Blumenthal’s Diamond Jubilee chicken. Speaking about the day, she said: “It’s lovely, its beautiful. You can’t believe you’re here”, then she added: “I tried the little chicken dish and made it into a sandwich. I’m not a lover of coronation chicken, but it’s certainly edible, it’s very nice.”
While the guests ate or strolled trough the grounds, the sounds of a steel band from St Vincent and the Grenadines contributed to the gentile carnival atmosphere.
Heston Blumenthal said the menu was tasted by the Royal Family, who gave their seal of approval at each stage.
He said it was an honour to have been chosen. “My name is a lot more exotic than I am. I’m British. I’m proud to be British, and I’m proud of the Royal Family. They have done so much work for the country, and that should be noted.
“When you look back over the Queen’s reign, Britain has changed so much in the past 60 years. We have come on culturally in terms of music and films, but one area that had lagged behind was food, but all that has changed in the last five years.We now have a great culinary tradition.”
Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond said the Queen remained close the heart of Scots.
He said yesterday: “We have had the opportunity this weekend for the people of Scotland to mark this wonderful occasion, and it is clear that the Scots’ affection for the Queen continues to be very loyal and strong.
“I am honoured to be attending today’s service of thanksgiving in St Paul’s Cathedral and will be equally honoured when Scotland marks this tremendous reign of 60 years with thanksgiving services in both Glasgow and Edinburgh during Royal week in July and the magnificent, specially themed Jubilee Tattoo in August.”
Kavita Ladva, 42, from Sheffield, went glam for the occasion, dressed in a strapless ivory silk gown covered in diamante, with tulle skirt.
The solicitor said: “I feel so privileged to be here. It brings tears to my eyes.”
Jennifer Beattie, 17, from Newcastle, was there with her brother Steven, 18. “It feels surreal,” she said of being in the palace. “We’re speechless.”