Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 29 November 2012

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive for an investiture at Buckingham Palace is how polite the police are. In contrast to their colleagues in other grimmer branches of law enforcement, they are friendly, jokey, and brimming with goodwill. Even the security men who search your car for explosives before you drive through the palace gate are jovial and easy-going. You might think that herding recipients of honours into Buckingham Palace might be exactly the kind of constabulary duty W.S. Gilbert had in mind when he decided that a policeman’s lot was not a happy one, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen policemen looking more cheerful. Are they specially trained to appear so on ceremonial occasions, or is there just something about being in the immediate service of the Queen that brings out the fun and gaiety in them?

The merriment in the courtyard continues to bubble away inside the palace, where distinguished royal servants in a variety of military uniforms seem to be taking great pride and pleasure in jobs that in normal circumstances might be considered on the dull side — standing around in a dignified manner, ticking names off lists, directing people to the lavatory, and so on. They all have kind words for the guests and the most exquisite manners. But then everything about Buckingham Palace is surprising and unfamiliar.

I hadn’t quite realised until I went there last week how immensely grand the state rooms at the Palace are. As you look up at the ceilings dozens of feet above your head, wondering how on earth they change the bulbs in the chandeliers, you feel very small; but everybody else looks very small as well. Royal palaces are presumably intended to have that humbling effect on the Queen’s subjects.

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