Mind your manners ... this meal is truly fit for a Queen
As much as the Royal Family tries to 'common-ize' themselves, every so often the magnitude of both wealth and position come fully into focus. No more so than when there is a State Banquet.
It is the ultimate in royal expression -- large, formal, teeming with ceremony, manners, extravagance and tradition.
The Queen hosts two or three of these dinners a year, on the occasion of a state visit. The latest was this week with the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (right), who enjoyed the Queen's hospitality for three days at Windsor Castle (state dinners are also held at Buckingham Palace).
The faces of dignataries change, but the routine varies little from dinner to dinner. With an overview photo (above) and a video from a 2010 banquet (below) as a guide, here's a bit of a primer on what to expect if you're ever invited to one of these shindigs:
► The venue for dinners at Windsor is St. George's Hall, which was gutted in the disasterous 1992 castle fire, but had been restored to its former grandeur by 1997. The paintings of former monarchs which adorn the walls had been saved from the fire. The new hammer-beam roof, made of green oak, was done by carpenters using medieval techniques.
► The seating arrangements for the 160 guests is drawn up by the Master of the Household, and is okayed by the Queen and the government. The Queen is heavily involved in the planning, right down to the flower arrangements.
► On the ceiling are the coats of arms of the Garter Knights. The shields that are plain white signify a knight that had been removed because of criminal or treasonous behaviour.
► The dining table is mahogany, made in 1849. To accomodate all the elbow room guests need, there are 60 leaves that extend the table the length of the Hall. The room itself is 55.5 metres long and 9 metres wide.
► The Queen sits around the centre of the table (on the left above), where there are Yeomen warders, or Beefeaters, standing guard. About 40 footmen attend to the guests.
► It takes about two days to set the table and it is done with precision as each glass, plate and piece of silverware is lined up from the table’s edge with a ruler. Chairs are placed 27 inches from the table.
► There are six glasses in front of each guest: one for red wine, another for white, one for port, two for champagne -- one for toasting and the other to go with dessert -- and one for water.
► Dinner starts with the arrival of the Queen and the head of state. The Queen makes her speech (there are loudspeakers so no one has to strain to hear), followed by a toast, then the guest of honour does the same. Dinner is then served. For this latest sitdown with the Sheikh, it was poached turbot, Windsor partridge and dark chocolate gateau. A military band supplied the background music, including Bach and a Beatles compilation.
Queen Elizabeth delivers a speech at a State Banquet for the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah at Windsor Castle this week. (Reuters)