Keep­ing the Canapes And the Queen’s Guest Line Mov­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Mary Jor­dan

LON­DON A t 3:10 in the af­ter­noon, two hours be­fore the guests are to be­gin ar­riv­ing, Ed­ward Grif­fiths rides the gi­ant ser­vice el­e­va­tor down to the base­ment kitchens in Buck­ing­ham Palace.

A se­ri­ous man, a per­fec­tion­ist re­ally, Grif­fiths leaves noth­ing to chance. In this home where the “Boss,” as some re­fer to her in the hall­ways, is Queen El­iz­a­beth II, Grif­fiths is the deputy mas­ter of the house­hold, and tonight he has yet an­other party to pull off.

As Grif­fiths, a blue ker­chief perched in the pocket of his pin­striped suit, walks into the pas­try kitchen, three chefs in white hats and aprons are squirt­ing homemade rasp­berry jam on sug­ary lines of mac­a­roons.

Head chef Mark Flana­gan runs down the canape sched­ule. To serve the Scot­tish salmon at pre­cisely 6 p.m., the sil­ver trays must depart from here at 5:50 p.m. It takes a full 10 min­utes to walk from the base­ment kitchens to the draw­ing rooms in this 829,000-square-foot home with 775 rooms.

Af­ter the per­fect lit­tle folds of salmon, the roast beef with pick­led ginger and other hot canapes will be­gin their as­cent, fol­lowed by the dessert made from ber­ries grown at Bal­moral Cas­tle — an­other of the Boss’s lit­tle re­treats.

Tonight, the guests are a few hun­dred Amer­i­cans work­ing and liv­ing in Bri­tain.

“For­eign peo­ple ex­pect some­thing English,” Grif­fiths says of the food. “One would not try to em­u­late what they do bet­ter in their own coun­tries.”

As one of the palace’s 350 clocks chimes 3:30, Grif­fiths speaks in his res­o­lutely calm voice about putting guests at ease: “Peo­ple who come here might feel ner­vous or un­sure about eti­quette. It’s built up to be more than it is.”

Yet the buildup and plan­ning are in­tense. The date was se­lected last year, the palace re­search team put to­gether a guest list, and then elab­o­rate in­vi­ta­tions were mailed.

Now, shortly be­fore the guests will ar­rive, Grif­fiths speaks like a gen­eral in the bat­tle­field about “seam­lessly” mov­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple through var­i­ous draw­ing rooms and to­ward the queen’s gloved hand. Even a 30-sec­ond pause in the re­ceiv­ing line “is not tremen­dously wel­come,” he says.

If there is a gaffe, it will be re­viewed in the morn­ing. Af­ter ev­ery event there is a morn­ing “wash-up meet­ing,” where any flaw or par­tic­u­lar suc­cess is an­a­lyzed. Along with prais­ing staff, says Grif­fiths, “it is also im­por­tant to be self-crit­i­cal.”

It’s 4 p.m. as he walks past im­pres­sive shelves filled with gi­ant shiny cop­per pots. One dates to the era of Queen Vic­to­ria, who took the throne in 1837. On an­other kitchen shelf is a big box of Quaker Oats.

“So does the queen come down to th­ese kitchens in the mid­dle of the night in her slip­pers to get a snack?” Grif­fiths is asked.

While oth­ers in the kitchen laugh at the thought, he ig­nores it. For Grif­fiths, dis­cre­tion is as in­stinc­tive as draw­ing breath. He won’t dis­cuss the queen’s per­sonal habits, most cer­tainly not what she does or does not do in her slip­pers. He won’t even di­vulge his age. “In my 50s,” is as ex­pan­sive as he gets.

An­other staff mem­ber qui­etly adds that if the queen needs a snack, the palace’s private liv­ing quar­ters have a sep­a­rate kitchen.

At 4:15 p.m. Grif­fiths is back up­stairs check­ing on the bar­men putting wine­glasses on a long ta­ble cov­ered in white linen. A house­keeper is run­ning the vac­uum over the plush car­pets in the White Draw­ing Room, where the queen will greet the guests.

He gives a last minute look at the new pho­to­graphic ex­hibit as­sem­bled just for tonight: pho­to­graphs of the 80-year-old queen with nearly ev­ery U.S. pres­i­dent since Harry Tru­man, all blown up to life size.

Ex­tra po­lice are as­sem­bling out­side to check cars and guests com­ing through the fa­mous front gate, where mil­lions of tourists have stood to watch the Chang­ing of the Guard. Inside, out of the pub­lic glare, Grif­fiths works with a house­hold staff of 400, in­clud­ing peo­ple with job ti­tles such as yeo­man of the royal cel­lars, sergeant foot­man and fend­er­smith (re­spon­si­ble for mend­ing the metal fend­ers in front of fire­places).

Be­fore Grif­fiths took this job six years ago, he worked in ho­tels and restau­rants, where he says his du­ties were also “about ex­cel­lence in ser­vice and at­ti­tude.”

There are dif­fer­ences, though. In ho­tels and restau­rants there is al­ways a bit of guess­work about who and how many will show up. At Buck­ing­ham Palace, there are no sur­prise guests. For one thing, he says, that makes it eas­ier to or­der the gro­ceries.

With this night’s in­vi­ta­tions in­struct­ing peo­ple to ar­rive be­tween 5:15 and 5:50, the first guests are at the door just as it opens. Most of Grif­fiths’s work is done, but he watches from the wings.

“I’m here cer­tainly un­til the last guest leaves,” he says, be­fore greet­ing Prince Andrew in the hall­way and walk­ing away into the end­less draped rooms of the palace.


Ed­ward Grif­fiths, deputy mas­ter of the house­hold, in the White Draw­ing Room be­fore a re­cent palace party.

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