I finally made it to the Queen’s Birthday Gala. Finally. For those of you not familiar with it, the Queen’s Birthday Gala, it’s the national day for Great Britain. For those of you who are American and need an equivalent, it’s like the 4th of July, except without the kicking out of the British and the Monarchy. Be warned. There will be many cheeky colonist references in this post. I just can’t help myself. Again, I’d like to remind you that I’m not the diplomat.
At a lot of posts abroad, diplomatic spouses aren’t invited to the national day celebrations. Especially in developed countries like Europe. Nope. Not even our own, actually. I will never forget being excluded from the 4th of July celebration in Frankfurt, Germany. While I initially was disappointed to be denied the American products that would definitely be served up at the buffet, I got over any affront when I saw the giant, inflatable Ronald McDonald go up on the tennis court. Completely over it. At that point, I actually felt physical pain for DiploDad, who would have to greet his counterparts from other consulates and maintain a straight face under the looming gaze of the clownish visage of American Fast Food.
I wasn’t even aware of the Queen’s Birthday Gala until we were posted to Ghana. In all my three years in Hong Kong, I never was invited to a single diplomatic reception. I admit to crashing one. I don’t even think DiploDad was high enough on the totem pole of importance to be on the invitation list for the Queen’s Birthday in Hong Kong. Too big of a place, too many important UK companies and individuals in addition to HK society to bother inviting anyone other than the Consul General from that annoying upstart nation. In Ghana, we were out on a medevac having DiploBoy 2 the first year. The second year and third year, I wasn’t invited. DiploDad was, but there was no “plus one” indicated. And then, I met M.
M was the British High Commissioner’s wife, and she taught at the DB’s school. She was awesome. She was friendly, smart, and Irish. She was classy and had a wicked streak a mile wide. She actually once complimented me on my mulled wine recipe, so I know she liked me back. She’s the kind of diplomatic spouse that you run into and think is just perfect for the “job” and you wonder if you will ever measure up to her.
Knowing M put me on the radar, so I was pretty sure I would be on the list for our last year in Ghana. DiploDad, however, neglected to inform me when the invitation arrived, so when he arrived home to get ready to leave and pick me up for the party, I was pulling out of the driveway and leaving to go teach a yoga class. I was pissed. When DiploDad went through the receiving line alone that evening, the first thing M blurted out to him was, “Where’s DiploMom?!?” He was adequately shamed and I felt marginally better when I heard that. But I’d still missed it.
I’d missed it in Hong Kong. I’d missed it in Ghana. And now, would I miss it in India? Note: Our tours look like a gathering of former British colonies. Coincidence?
When the invitation arrived I was beyond excited – my name was on it! DiploDad, knowing how badly I’d wanted to go, told me well in advance. I put it on the calendar, arranged for L to babysit and for D to drive.
The day of the Gala, I still hadn’t seen the actual invitation, so I asked DiploDad what the dress code was. Often at national day celebrations, the dress is “business or national dress”, and that was the case for the Gala. Oh, happy day! I love to wear national dress. I pulled out a sari, changed purses, and picked out coordinating bling. When I finally was ready, V pinned my sari (much to the amusement of DB2, who walked in from athletics class and asked me “what happened to you??!”), and DB2 snapped the obligatory “We-Gotta-Document-When-We-Actually-Look-Nice Photo” of DiploDad and me and we headed out.
The Gala was held at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba. We arrived and were greeted by the British High Commissioner and his wife, K. We know them; the DBs go to the same school as their kids. It’s really kind of cool when you are around the same age as the higher-ups. Then again, it’s really kind of embarrassing to admit it.
The ballroom was decorated with the Union Jack and backlit in blue and red.
Any sponsor logos were tastefully displayed; nary an inflatable clown in sight. Two bars were set up with the motto “Pubs are Great” on one side of them.
I cannot disagree. Waiters flitted about offering canapés – samosas, lamb, satay. The men eat the canapés, mostly – no way was I risking a satay with peanut dip in a silk sari. Dry cleaners can only do so much, after all. We met some of our friends who were also invited, and met a few new folks and swapped numbers and business cards.
After most of the guests arrived, it was time for the formalities. First was the playing of the Indian National Anthem, followed by the British National Anthem. I hate to admit it, but whenever I hear “God Save the Queen”, “America the Beautiful” begins to buzz in the back of my mind, and I get flashbacks of third grade. My mind begins to wander over to the Sex Pistols version by the second verse.
The speeches for the night were fun and entertaining. The current British High Commissioner is of Indian descent, and he spoke a bit of Hindi. I actually understood a few lines, particularly the one where he said he learned all his Hindi from Bollywood movies. The speeches involved lots of commentary from both the Maharashtra government and the Brits about relationships, economic ties, military cooperation, and friendship. There was the obligatory mention of how “a curry takeaway” has taken over fish and chips as the national comfort food of Britain. Then, a few comments about the Queen, the monarchy and the new Princess Charlotte.
Shortly after the speeches, I realized that I was being followed. Then, I realized why. Most of the women were not in national dress. Even a large portion of the Indian women present had gone the route of the Little Black Dress. I counted only two Western women in national dress, and only one of them was in a sari. Me. That little shadow following me was the event photographer, and he was making sure he caught me at each place – the bar, the tables, the buffet line, the opposite end of the room. It didn’t last too long, though, and eventually he decided he had his token photos and I could then actually eat my dinner.
Right before we got our dinner though, we decided to take advantage of the Abbey Road backdrop set up at the back of the ballroom. Our hosts had a giant backdrop on a small platform and the photographer was there to take pictures of us that were then printed out from a computer. Oh, it was FUN.
Of course, most people tried to mimic the Beatles’ album cover and we were no exception. We got one of all the ladies in the group we were chatting with. One with DiploDad and me and another couple from the DB’s school. One of DiploDad, me, and a friend from the German consulate. In the bottom right hand corner of each photo is “QBP 2015”. I only hope we do something as fun at our 4th of July gathering.
After dinner, we lingered a bit longer and said goodbye to our friends and our hosts. On the way out, we were given a “swag bag”. Sometimes you run into this practice, sometimes you do not. In India, you do. I have never been to a party or gathering with my Indian friends where either my kids or I have not taken away a “leaving gift”. Usually with a national day, you get products or coupons valid at companies and businesses of the country celebrating. The Brits did not disappoint.
After all this time, I finally got to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday. It definitely lived up to my expectations. I visited with my British and other friends, had some lovely British food (not a joke) and drink, and met quite a few new people that I am certain will make our time in Mumbai memorable and fun.
I also learned a few things about the Dear Monarch. Most interestingly, in the fall of this year, Queen Elizabeth will surpass Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch. (Yeah, dudes – give it up for the ladies.) She has been on the throne for almost sixty years to date. She has seen the rise of the Third Reich, World War II and the bombing of London. The woman bought her wedding dress with ration stamps. She has seen the postwar reconstruction of Europe and Japan, the Cold War, the advent of the nuclear age, and the independence of many of Britain’s colonies. She has seen us go from telegrams to emails, from letters to Twitter, and seen the life of the Concorde from start to finish. She has watched the United Kingdom make a tenuous peace in Northern Ireland and embroil itself in the Middle East. She has seen her country go from an overwhelmingly staid and class-oriented society to one that is multicultural, diverse, and at the same time overwhelmingly “British”. She has been the one thing that does not necessarily alter itself; a calm and static force in the midst of 60 years of rapid change. She is still there at events when we expect her, clad in a pastel coat with matching hat, waving the distinct Queen Elizabeth “royal wave” and smiling.
In short, she is amazing.
Happy Birthday, indeed, Your Majesty.