BRITISH diplomats in France were delighted to welcome the Queen to her official birthday party at the embassy this year – in a change from the usual proceedings which see them celebrate it without the “birthday girl”.
The garden party at the ambassador’s residence in central Paris coincided with the arrival of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in France for the start of their state visit and the D-Day commemorations and guests included long-time Connexion contributor Gerard Barron, who has been honorary consul of Boulogne-sur-Mer for 23 years.
He said 11 of France’s 15 British hon. consuls were among around 200 guests including politicians, diplomats and celebrities at the very British event, which included beefeaters and a marching band. They were asked to wait to welcome the Queen opposite the French official party, which included Prime Minister Manuel Valls as well as other cabinet ministers, SNCF boss Guillaume Pepy and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.
He said: “It was very well-organised and we were very lucky with the weather – the whole D-Day weekend went off very well from that point of view; just as well because a day later it was pouring in Normandy. It was just a very nice occasion, and especially for we hon. consuls, because we very rarely all get together, and we were right in the front line to meet the Queen.
“The guests were spaced out around the garden to welcome her, with the French on the left as she came down from the residence, and us on the right – she met the French party first before moving on round.
“We were all hoping to meet her, but she was delayed as she went around and she was just introduced to our oldest member, Georges, from Cayenne, who has done the job for 40 years, which surprised the Queen. She was being ushered along, but turned to me and saw my MBE rosette and asked me what I did, so I explained my honorary consul role.
“She gave me a firm handshake and then moved up to the steps and the band started marching. She spoke in English to us, but spoke in French to the French.”
Mr Barron added: “It was a very good occasion and everyone was delighted. There is always a Queen’s official birthday party at the residence, or QBP, as we call it in the jargon – I attended my first in 1973 – but she’s never been there for it and this time she was, which was great. From a point of view of Trooping the Colour it’s too risky weather-wise to do it in April when she was born, so they decided to give her an official birthday in June.
“I was surprised to see so many members of the government past and present, especially as there was an event the same evening next door at the US ambassador’s residence, and there were official dinners and suppers at the Elysée, just one garden further on, so that was very pleasing for Sir Peter Ricketts, the ambassador, and there were a number of other well-known people there, like [French media personality and royalty expert] Stéphane Bern, and I was standing next to the French ex-rugby international Serge Betsen [a former captain of London Wasps].”
The party was followed by the Queen’s visit to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations on the Friday. For more about D-Day, see Connexion’s special pull-out section in the June edition, on sale across France now.
More photos from the garden party can be seen at: UK in France
Photo: Claire Morris Photography – the Queen meets Gerrard Barron with ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts