It's taken the palace only 40 years to invite me back
Published 1 August 2010 News Review 889th article
Michael and Geraldine at Buckingham Palace (Jim Sharkey)
Geraldine lay at the bottom of the grand staircase in my house, crying, badly bruised, bleeding and shaken. She'd crawled there from the basement where . . . I'll tell you later.
Now: Her Majesty the Queen. In an envelope stamped "Buckingham Palace" was an invitation: "The lord chamberlain is commanded by Her Majesty to invite Mr Michael Winner and Ms Geraldine Lynton-Edwards to a garden party at Buckingham Palace." I first went to one of those in 1968, a second in 1970. I thought I behaved impeccably. Obviously not, as it took 40 years before I was asked again.
I'm a great fan of the Queen. She sent me a personally signed photo. I hosted her for two hours when she unveiled my National Police Memorial in the Mall. I was flattered to be told by a private secretary that the Queen asked after me more than once when I was ill. I admire true professionals. None greater than Her Majesty, the greatest bargain our nation possesses. She doesn't interfere in business, doesn't foist her personal views onto other countries or UK authorities. She leads by example, very aware of the path she should tread in a confused world. The fact that Her Majesty asked some 7,500 people to the same tea party as me I bear bravely. A private cuppa with a bun and six butlers was, I suppose, out of the question.
The royal garden parties are a lesson in organisation and good taste. Apart from my being included.
One of two military bands played robustly as we sauntered in. Geraldine's leg was swollen beyond belief, bruised and with open wounds. She had to wear trousers, not the dress she'd planned. Walking was difficult, standing even worse.
We sat briefly on the lawn where I met a mayor from Gwent. Our tickets were for the diplomatic tent, next to the royal tent. There we managed to find a table, sharing with a Lebanese embassy first secretary and a Hungarian.
The tea itself was historic. A massive credit to the caterer, Charles Boyd. All the sandwiches tasted fresh, the sponge cake with jam and cream was fantastic, the ginger and fruit cakes beyond belief, and, greatest marvel of all, the coffee eclair extraordinary. Any eclair that goes in the fridge comes out massively degraded. Charles explained the humidity in the fridge melts the icing on top, called fondant. He wraps plastic round the tray in the fridge, then opens the plastic bags two hours before serving. To reduce humidity further he turns off one of the motors, making the fridge a cooler only.
Charles has a restaurant, Boyd's, in Northumberland Avenue.
"On a scale of one to ten, how posh is it?" I asked.
"Five," said Charles, "but the building's nine."
A lovely Korean lady whose husband, John Hope, once organised royal garden parties said, "When I see you on television I always laugh. You're far more handsome in the flesh." That shows the high intelligence of royal guests.
A burst of That's Entertainment from the band. Sixteen Beefeaters appeared on the other side of the lawn and formed an avenue. "The Queen's gonna come out dancing," I thought. "That'll be nice."
"She won't be in view for 15 minutes," explained John.
As we were standing at the rail facing the lawn, I looked round for our chairs. They'd gone. I said loudly, "Never seen a room with so many chair nickers in it."
This embarrassed at least one elegantly dressed guest. A pretty girl, Caroline Reed from Windsor, brought some chairs over.
The Duke of Edinburgh (one of my all-time favourite people) walked by. Then the Queen crossed the lawn in pale blue looking delightful.
Geraldine said, "She recognised you. She looked, saw you, went on, then looked back."
The written instruction said no photos should be taken in the palace. As we were leaving, the front forecourt was full of guests photographing each other. I thought, "If they're doing it why shouldn't I?" Jim, my chauffeur, manned the Leica.
A palace official said, "No photographs."
I pointed out cheerfully, "Behind you, 30 people are taking photos. Better get your running shoes on."
The official said, "All right then, but be quick." As we finished it started to rain.
Geraldine was walking at 4mph on the Precor treadmill. She does this regularly. Suddenly, without warning, the speed increased to about 30mph. She fell onto the rotating rubber, which ripped into her skin. She was catapulted onto the doorframe and hard surfaces of my gym. She could have been killed. That was two weeks ago. She's still suffering.
I think Precor behaved poorly. Two executives came and said they'd never heard of such a thing happening. I spoke to accident lawyers who'd dealt with similar cases. Precor examined the machine, but could find no fault. It took the treadmill away; so far no result. When the machine was last serviced no word of caution was given. Neither did any concern for Geraldine emanate from Precor, until the threat of litigation appeared. Then it offered sympathy galore. This show will run and run.
Geraldine will never go on a treadmill again. I don't blame her.
What a lovely photo of the pupils at St Barnabas and St Philip's school. Aren't they a little early to be collecting for the bonfire night Guy, pictured dead centre? Still, they've plenty of time to make it lifelike.
Mike Harris, Derby
No wonder you were grinning like a Cheshire cat. You must have put it about on an international scale to father all those kids.
Iain Chapman, Marciac, France
Good to see you auditioning with the children of St Barnabas and St Philip's for the remake of Goodbye Mr Chips. Did you get the part?
Brian O'Connell, Liverpool
I was very surprised to read about your school visit. I thought they had strict vetting procedures these days.
Anthony Roberts, West Sussex
The photo at your school graduation was spoilt by one person. Why did you think it was mufti day?
Kay Bagon, Hertfordshire
The letter concerning the temperature of soup served in Ashton-under-Lyne leads me to ask - at what temperature must a restaurant issue a warning "This soup may be hot"?
Don Roberts, Cheshire
I recently decided, albeit reluctantly, to sell the signed photograph you kindly sent me. It made £4.93 on eBay. My Bob Dylan autograph was valued at £500. And he's still alive.
Alex Graham, Ross-Shire
Please write to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email firstname.lastname@example.org