I have one suit. My mother chastises me about this, begs that I purchase another, but I counter argue saying I’ve no place to wear the one I have to; only worn it twice. I have two corduroy blazers that pass for ‘smart/casual’. But when I gotta look fresh, like say I were to meet a queen, it’s what I’d wear, and what I wore to Buckingham palace on the 9th of May 2011. I caught a bus from Peckham High Street, through Victoria to Hyde Park. The irony was not lost on me, I, the son of immigrant parents, going through the chicken strewn streets of South East London - here, where our representative at the House of Parliament feels it necessary to wear kevlar before walking through in broad daylight - from here, to pretty much the heart of British establishment, class structure, colonial history, slave ships, warts and all... I got off at Hyde Park corner and walked down Constitution Hill, lost in my thoughts, nerves surrendered to Mos Def’s familiar voice, half closed eyes, oblivious to the cyclists flashing by till one cursed ‘GET OFF THE CYCLE PATH ASSHOLE’. I turned to retort with something its equal, till checking my footsteps, realised he was right. I was at the traffic lights, crossed the street towards the main gates and waited for KC and YB, friends of mine who too had been invited to the ‘Reception for Young People In the Performing Arts’. Another friend BM was across the road, her mother and aunt who fussing over, making sure her blue dress sat right, that her curtsey was perfect. I crossed over to say Hi, got a text message from KC who’d gone in already. BM and I waved to her folks, showed our invitations at the gates and stepped into the palace grounds.
It was big, grounds covered in reddish gravel crunching beneath our feet. We walked the inside perimeter of to the main entrance, up the red carpeted flight of stairs to the cloakroom/desk and deposited our bags/jackets in return for a rectangular white disk. Mine was numbered 333 and I made a joke to BM about a Nigerian in Buckingham palace and the devil’s digits. We retraced our footsteps turing right and up a wider, red-carpeted set of stairs. As you can imagine, the walls were draped with paintings, classical ones depicting who I took to be old royals in varying poses; everything gold leafed, foliage patterned, chandeliers, royal seals.
At the top, we turned into a row of stands differentiated by letters. I reached the one that held the first letter of my surname. ‘Mr Ellams?’ says he. ‘...er Yeah?’ says I. I believe we spelt your name wrongly? I looked to my invitation card where ‘Inua’ had been spelt ‘Innua’, a commonly made mistake ‘...er yeah?’. ‘Here’s another with the corrected spelling, we apologise for the mistake, keep the card with you at all time and enjoy you visit’. ‘Thanks’. Far end of the huge hall, a large number of suited and gowned folks, wine glasses tinkling, laughter tickling the air. BM and I were directed left and into another room. We grabbed drinks, looking over our shoulders for anyone else we knew. We spotted CB and TA from London’s Southbank centre. Every other face we knew was recognised from television or film doing their best, like us, to look like we fitted in.
Suddenly it was time to meet The Queen. A door I took to be a wall opened, we lined up and began marching towards that famous hand of hers, the one that waves. There were attendants flanking her and Prince Phillip who’d take the card from you, speak your name out loud so she’d say ‘How are you doing’ after, and you’d mutter something in response. I did not bow although my father advised me too, partly cause I feared I might head butt the lady, partly cause I didn’t think it necessary. She wore black gloves, I reached out for her hand trying to squeeze it lightly and she gripped mine with such force, I just about stifled my wince. ‘How do you?’ says The Queen. ‘Fine thank you, its good to meet you’ says I. That was it. We moved on. Through an even more elaborately decorated space, left, right and through to the performance room. It was massive, about 5 times the size of my house and garden. An orchestra in the far end, seats all around and the long rectangular stage in the middle. We sat and had to half-squint to make out other faces in the room. We stood up when The Queen came in, sat after she did then the show began.
It was quite clever actually. Sections of the story of Romeo and Juliet told through different stage arts: Ballet, Musical Theatre, Opera, Street Dance, R’n’B, Hip and Hop - all performed by young people. Good performers, alright music, crap sound and acoustics. At the end, we stood in utter silence for the Queen to leave, and the nervous quiet was broken by Helen Mirren, I imagine the only person who’d dare to, who whispered/spoke to the young performers waiting uncomfortably and statuesque on the stage ‘You were great by the way’. We filed out into another long space for the networking/drinks and little canapés/finger food bit. I made sure I used the loo just so I could say ‘I went to the palace and had a royal flush’. The most surreal moment of it all, was walking past Ellie Golding, who was chatting to Duffy, past Jamie Cullum who was talking to Jools Holland, to reach Speech DeBelle who I knew ages before she won the Mercury Prize. We talked for a few minutes and on the way back, saw Andrew Marr introducing Goldie to the Queen, with Kevin Spacey laughing in the background.
Anyway, they kicked us out at 8pm. KC and I had chosen sofas to sleep on till breakfast the next morning so reluctantly we left, down the stairs, collected our bags/jackets and crunched out towards the main gates. Someone kindly took a photo of us on YB’s phone, the only true evidence of the whole affair. I called my lady KL as soon as I left the palace grounds, and on the bus ride home one question nagged me, What was more expensive? Goldie’s gold teeth or the Queen’s outfit?