The red carpet has been rolled out for Trump’s historic visit … but under the civilised veneer tensions run high.
by SARAH VINE
Daily Mail Columnist
June 5, 2019
Abridged by Lasha Darkmoon,
with brief notes and a short video added
Banquet at Buckingham Palace. CLICK TO EXPAND
It wasn’t really me who was invited. It was my husband, Michael Gove, who as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has actually earned his place at that table — with many others equally, if not more, worthy.
But of all the occasions at which I have been a ‘plus one’, this has been the most memorable.
Where to start? The elegant efficiency of the Royal Household, steering proceedings with a quiet but firm sense of purpose; the exquisite paintings and lavish gilding; the strangely humdrum bowls of crisps at the reception.
Then there was the band playing Nobody Does It Better and the theme music from Pirates Of The Caribbean during dinner (slightly surreal); the outstandingly beautiful floral displays; Tiffany Trump, shy and a bit lost in her Disney princess ballgown; the Duchess of Cambridge, exquisite in Alexander McQueen; The Duchess of Cornwall, warm-eyed and mischievous; the equerries, ever watchful; the ladies-in-waiting, resplendent in their tiaras.
And, of course, the Queen herself, a tiny, shining pearl of a woman glinting in the giant Trump oyster, small and luminous in her white gown, that movie-star smile and dewy skin that so bedazzles all who meet her. A unique presence in a room full of interplanetary egos, simultaneously understated yet at the same time utterly mesmerising.
The Royal Household is famous for its efficiency; but it’s not until you see it in action first hand that it really hits home just how brilliantly well-oiled a machine it is.
That is the secret of the Monarch’s success — and why the British Royal Family endures from generation to generation. The Queen has always instinctively understood this. Her ability to function as a symbol of something so potent coupled with her warm, down-to-earth persona is what makes her such a beloved and respected figure.
After ascending a grand double staircase (the Grand Staircase at Buckingham Palace pictured) and receiving our introduction cards and seating plans — a red dot for me, a blue one for my husband — we joined the 168 other guests for a bit of Windsor Great Park English fizz and small talk.
With the exception of yours truly, it was a whirlwind of Hons, Right Hons, Lords, Ladies, Sirs, Baronesses, the occasional Earl and at least one Vice-Admiral.
I was just comparing notes with Jeremy Hunt’s wife Lucia (looking very beautiful in a cream beaded dress) when a gentle touch on the elbow indicated the next stage of the proceedings was about to begin.
Gilded double doors opened, revealing the receiving line: the Queen, Donald Trump, Melania, Prince Charles and Camilla. (Pictured) We quickly formed an orderly queue and processed through, handing over our introduction cards so our names could be whispered into the royal ear, before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries.
Meeting the Queen is a very odd experience. You want to be witty, clever, impressive; in fact (if you are me) you burble something inane and attempt a clumsy curtsey while she endures politely and with great fortitude. Luckily, one is ushered forward, past the bear-like Trump and inscrutable Melania towards Charles and Camilla, who are enthusiastically welcoming.
Sarah Vine, author of this article, described by a friend as “a curvy Morticia Addams”. (CLICK TO EXPAND)
At this point, my husband was siphoned off to join the official procession, so I found my way to my seat alone. There I bumped into Trump’s youngest daughter, Tiffany (pictured), tall, blonde and resplendent in berry-coloured tulle. We chatted for a few minutes (she had recently been to the Cannes film festival).
She seemed rather shy and nervous — she is only 25 — and I was reminded that, for all the advantages, sometimes it’s not easy being the child of a famous, and often controversial, figure.
The table was groaning with flowers and fruit, great big blousy bouquets of pink roses and peonies, bowls of white peaches and artfully trimmed pineapples.
Each place setting was meticulously arranged with a bewildering selection of wine glasses. We looked around at each other, trying to fathom whether to stand, sit, take a sip of water or wait for instructions.
The latter it was, as the serving staff, equerries and Beefeaters coalesced into formation for the arrival of the royal procession. We turned to face the door as, two by two, the guests of honour arrived.
I was lucky. On my left was Dr Simon Case, private secretary to the Duke of Cambridge — and my master of etiquette for the night. They must have suspected I would get something wrong — and I did.
Instructed to toast the President, I reached enthusiastically for my glass, only to realise too late that no one else had. Instead, the band struck up a sprightly rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, leaving me clutching my sparkling wine awkwardly for the duration.
I thought I might have got away with it — but clearly not. After the pudding had been cleared and the finger bowls for the fruit placed in front of us, Dr Simon leant in. ‘Don’t whatever you do drink it,’ he whispered. He was joking. I think.
Dinner was strangely underwhelming. The food was very good — but, dare I say it, rather plain. Perhaps it had been tailored to meet the President’s famously simple tastes. The wine, by contrast, was exceptional and though the glasses were small, they were generously replenished.
I was just passing on the port when the pipers struck up. There is no better way to bring an evening to a swift and inarguable conclusion than a lusty rendition of The Bonawe Highlanders.
We rose as the Queen and entourage left, then proceeded next door for coffee and chocs.
And that, Dear Reader, would have been that — had it not been for another gentle tap on the elbow. Dr Simon, who had joined us for coffee, melted away, and we were ushered into a crowded side room.
It was like walking into Madame Tussauds, only to discover that all the waxworks were real. Off to the right was the Queen, next to Princes Andrew and Edward. On my left, Ivanka Trump was deep in conversation with the Duchess of Cambridge, and, somewhere in the middle, was Trump, sucking all who came near into his orbit.
LD: Trump brought all his four children from his first two wives to England on this state visit: Donald Trump Jnr., Ivanka Trump (the apple of his eye), Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump. They were not actually invited but Trump decided to bring them along anyway. It’s not clear why Trump’s fifth child, Barron Trump, the 13-year-old son of his current wife Melania, has been left behind in America. Here is a picture of the Trump Family Tree. (LD)
It was like any other drinks party — save for the fact that everyone in the room was extremely powerful or famous — or both. All except me.
As my husband was whisked off to meet The Donald and his delegation, I looked for someone to latch on to. My eyes alighted on Melania, flanked by the wife of the U.S. Ambassador. ‘Oh, what the hell,’ I thought, and approached.
Up close, the First Lady is even more impressively beautiful than in photographs — those cat’s eyes are mesmerising; but she is also much more human than she has been made to seem, and no fool.
Observing my husband’s Dress Gordon Tartan kilt, we speculated that perhaps next time, The Donald, being of Scottish heritage, should consider wearing a tartan kilt.
“Does he have a kilt?” I asked Melania?
I complimented her on her dress, she on mine.
Soon afterwards, the Queen, who is, after all, 93, slipped away. The ladies-in-waiting and other members of the Royal Household followed, so I scooped up my husband and we made for the exit.
Whatever one’s feelings about Donald Trump, only a fool would turn down the opportunity of such an extraordinary adventure.