The UK normally hosts one or two state visits a year with visiting heads of state which includes Monarchs, Presidents or Prime Ministers who are invited to visit The Queen on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is normally announced in The Queen’s Speech. From Ethiopia to Chile, Thailand to Bahrain, Iceland to the USA, The Queen over the past 60 years has hosted visitors from a huge number of different countries. These visits, both outward and incoming, play an integral role in strengthening Britain's relationships with countries across the world.
The programme for outward State Visits can vary widely, but incoming Visits usually feature a few regular events which are the following.
The Queen and other Members of the Royal Family greet visitors with a ceremonial welcome, which usually takes place on Horse Guards Parade.
The visiting party is invited to inspect a Guard of Honour before travelling back to the Palace in a carriage procession escorted by a large number of mounted soldiers from the Household Cavalry. The welcome is accompanied by gun salutes fired from Green Park and the Tower of London.
Usually on the evening of the arrival day, the visitors will be hosted at a State Banquet, which is a very grand formal occasion held in the Buckingham Palace Ballroom. Around 150- 170 guests are usually invited on the basis of their cultural, diplomatic or economic links to the country being hosted. A team start preparing four months in advance, polishing the 5,500 silver-gilt pieces and the 2,500 glass items. Five days before the dinner, the team constructs the horseshoe table. Two days before, the Yeoman of the Glass and China Pantry folds the napkins embroidered with the Queen’s monogram in a Dutch bonnet shape, and flower arrangements are started which will include 31 floral arrangements.
On the day itself, starting at 8am, the team lay the table: first placing the folded napkins, then six pieces of silver-gilt cutlery per guest, plus butter knives. Twelve ice pails, 118 salt cellars, 140 dishes, 288 dinner plates and 1,104 glasses are then added to the table. Trays of Stourbridge glasses made for the Queen’s coronation in 1953, each bearing the eiir cipher, are being carried up from the Glass Pantry; 18th-century porcelain is being polished; and a member of the household staff stands in the middle of the Ballroom, steaming the linen tablecloth. More than 2,000 pieces of cutlery, tableware and salvers, plus 23 centrepieces – all part of the 4,000-piece Grand Service bought by George IV 200 years ago, this is used for the silver-gilt display – a selection of the best pieces from the Grand Service – is erected on one side of the Ballroom.
The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and those at the top table each have their own salt and mustard cellar; everyone else shares one between four. Each setting is checked with a special measuring stick – guests get at least 18in between their knife and fork. Before the banquet the Queen comes to look at the room.
Guest list includes heads of Political Parties, High Commissioners, Ambassadors and the Royal Family and Invitations are sent out 6 week in advance. The dress code is White Tie or Full Service Dress, with decorations or service medals.
The Queen wears highness honour given by the country. When the visiting head of state arrives before the dinner, the Lord Chamberlain and Mistress of The Robes meet and look after them and the other senior guests in the drawing room before being presented to the Queen in another room.
The Procession to the dinner is lead by Lord Chamberlain into the Ballroom which is where the state dinners take place at Buckingham Palace. They are also held at Windsor Castle or occasionally The Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh.
When the guests are seated the speeches are first. The Queen makes a speech and proposes a toast to the visiting Head of State, who replies and in return proposes a toast to Her Majesty.
An orchestra plays and the meal will begin which can include the following
Fish - Halibut, Salmon, Turbot
Meat – Lamb, Venison, Beef
Pudding - Sherry Trifle, Apple Crumble, Chocolate Torte (Torte is a multi layered cake while a Tart is made from pastry)
Fruit - A selection of fruit is offered to finish the meal off.
Coffee is then served in the drawing rooms
It is worth mentioning that Silver gilt is used for the first two courses then porcelain.
Dinner normally takes one hour and 20 minutes. At the end of the meal 12 pipers process around the room – a tradition started by Queen Victoria – and the guests depart for coffee and handmade petits fours in the State Rooms. The room is stripped down in two hours.
If you are invited my top three tips are :
1. Don’t shake hands with the Queen, touch or kiss
2. When the Queen stops eating all the guests finish
3. Invitations cannot be declined as the Queen commands you to attend
4. Do not be late, otherwise you may not be permitted to attend
5. Leave all mobile devices in your car or at home
For the remainder of the State Visit, which normally lasts a few days, the visitor will meet the British Prime Minister, Government ministers and leaders of the main political parties. They may attend another Banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor and City of London Corporation, where they will meet leaders of commerce and industry.
Sometimes the Royal Collection will display an exhibition of themed items, for example when The President of the United Mexican States visited in 2015, a display of Mexican-themed objects were displayed.