Royal recipe for 100 birthday parties

The Times April 20, 2006

Royal recipe for 100 birthday parties
By Alan Hamilton

THERE are about 330,000 octogenarians in the country and the Queen is about to become one of them. Yesterday she invited 99 others who share her precise age to lunch at Buckingham Palace in celebration of their collective birthday tomorrow.

It could have been a testing occasion for elderly gnashers but the fillet of beef in red wine and shallot Bordelaise was by all accounts done to a fine tenderness and the lemon mille-feuille dessert slipped down a treat, encouraged by a plenitude of wine.

Among our eightysomethings, women outnumber men, but the 70 women and 29 men in the Palace ballroom was hardly a true demographic reflection: official statistics suggest that about 198,000 women and 131,000 men of that age are alive. Applications were sought from anyone who was born on April 21, 1926, the day that the then Princess Elizabeth of York entered the world. She was a fairly minor royal, only third in line of succession and never expected to ascend the throne. That was due to go to her Uncle David but then he went and flunked it by abdicating.

Eight decades later and contrary to what David Cameron said in his Commons tribute yesterday, she is the fourth-longest reigning monarch in our history and has been since June 2002, when she surpassed the 50-year tenure of Edward III. Pedants prefer to put her in fifth place, as they like to count James VIs 36 years on the Scottish throne before he was lured south in 1603 for a further 22 years as James I.

Her lunch companions were chosen by ballot to ensure a fair representation of every part of the kingdom. Each was allowed to bring one spouse or companion and they were treated to drinks with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the Picture Gallery followed by a three-course meal, eaten off solid silver plates, usually reserved for state banquets, in the ballroom.

The guests gave off excitement like steam from broth. I feel wonderful; this is something I never dreamed of, Doreen OLeary, a great-grandmother from Oswestry, Shropshire, said. Ive known all my life that I shared my birthday with the Queen, but today I feel quite emotional.

Ive led a totally different life to the Queen; Ive worked hard all my life.

But Lilly Lund, from the village of Airmyn in East Yorkshire, had a different view. Its wonderful to share the same birthday as the Queen; its been special for me, especially as a child, to be told the flags were flying for me on my birthday. Ive had a very different life to the Queen; I think shes had a harder life than I did.

The Queen gave a slight hint of emotion as she welcomed her guests, speaking of the support of family and friends that she had received over the years. Private conversations were more down to earth. The bespectacled Emily Downie from Greenock in Inverclyde, said: She asked me about my eyes and said, Its a bit of a nuisance, isnt it? For some years now the Queen has extracted her spectacles from her handbag whenever she has to read a speech.

The Rev Amos Cresswell, a Methodist minister from Braunton, Devon, sat next to the Queen, mainly because he had been deputed to reply on behalf of the guests. We thank you for the grace, kindness and for the love with which you have served us all, he told her.

Afterwards he spilt the beans on their private lunchtime conversation. We discussed everything from football and the World Cup to grandchildren, modern life and mobile phones. Shes more with-it than I am.

John Forrester, from Norfolk Island, a British island in the South Pacific, who sat on the Queens other side, said after lunch: It was great; I couldnt think of a nicer function if I live to be 81.
I am glad to see, Blackleaf, that the Queen has the good sense to serve French cuisine, and not British muck...

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