The flight was flawless and the British do know how to be on time. David Saunders picked me up at the airport and was my escort to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Equestrian Birthday Party celebrating Prince Philip’s 90th year as a blue blood and horse enthusiast.
Prince PhillipThe Prince born in 1921, it was fitting that guests contributed to a cigar box made in the year he was born, but newly embossed with an image of the Duke driving his Fell Ponies. As the Prince arrived at the podium, he fained not being able to support the weight of such a heavy silver box; but his slight frame and healthy demeanor show no signs of weakness, and his remarks at the microphone showed no signs of mental frailty either. He and the Queen, age 85, are my new role models. As my parents would have said, “What a spry couple.”
The party was held at the beautiful Coworth Park Polo Field at the Dorchester Collection. We were able to park directly in front of the hotel’s prestigious manor house and immediately met the young George Bowman and his statuesque Scottish lady friend. George, Jr. is as flamboyant and gregarious as his mother, so we did not lack for conversation as we entered the hotel’s reception hall. We were met by waiters with trays of champagne and guests in gowns and tuxedos.
We proceeded to the terrace overlooking gardens, the green lawns and huge white tent with windows aglow with lavish table settings. We walked down the Lime Avenue (a walkway lined with lime trees making an arch above our heads) onto the grass carpeted area overlooking the polo fields where we were met with more waiters with Champaign and now tray, after tray, of hors d’oeuvres. I immediately recognized carriage builder Mark Broadbent and his wife, and then the elderly coaching driver, Peter Munt, who is frail but apparently determined to attend the party. The tall and impressive looking John Richards approached me with his beautiful American lady friend, Nancy, at his side. John is always talkative and complementing me on my carriage collection and knowledge.
As I was sipping from the champagne flute there was a hush over the crowd at exactly 6:30 as an announcement of the Prince’s arrival was made. Every head turned in the direction of his Land Rover license number OXR 1. This slim gray-haired handsome gentleman graciously meaundered though the throngs speaking to as many guests as he recognized. He tapped David on the back and greeted him warmly and asked him what happened to his mushtash. (David acted as coachman to the Duke for 20 years, so the Prince always makes a point of making conversation with David. Together they won a gold and two bronze metals at World Championships.)
After the Coworth Park vs. The Guards polo match, the Band of the Royal Marines from Collingwood performed on the field as four coaches were presented by members of the London Coaching Club. The carriage driving presentation brought to our attention the dog cart that the Prince drove before he and David Saunders designed the first marathon carriage with a chariot type platform in the rear. Boyd Excel, Australian World Champion, surprisingly drove his four to a modern marathon vehicle out of the back of a horse trailer and impressed the crowd with tight turns that demonstrated the agility of the lead horses that leaped away from hazards.
We proceded back to the elaborate tent we had passed, to experience floors with plush cream colored felt and walls draped in elegant shear fabric.
We were seated at round tables of 8, each named for a combined driving competition location. The Louther table was our destination. Everyone remained standing and at the appointed time the room became silent. Sure enough, the Queen was arriving. She had been conspicuously absent before dinner to allow the Prince time to be the center of attention and interact with his friends. Once she arrived at the party all heads were turned in her direction. With perfectly coiffured hair and an aqua calf length dress, she took her position at the “Royal Windsor Horse Show” table at the center of the room. The Prince took his place at an adjoining round table, each facing the platform with microphone. There was no head table – the whole setting was reminiscent of a tented dinner at a horse show but with much more elegant trappings. Interestingly the waite staff come each with two plates and served the male guests first and females second. In America it would have been ladies served first.
After a starter of English asparagus with egg and truffle dressing, we had sirloin of beef, roasted carrots, fondant potatoes, and Lyonnaise onions. The best part was the English Summer Pudding we had for dessert. These must be Prince Philips favorites. The champagne toasts started with one to the Queen and later to the Prince as he accepted his silver cigar box. At the specified time the Queen took her leave, and only then were guests allowed to rise a exist the dinning area.
What an honor to have dinner sitting within feet of the Royals when there were 250 of the Prince’s guests in the room. My hope is only to be as healthy as he, and reach the age of 90.