London, 4 May 1960
She gazed into the night from the limousine’s window, her heart beating quickly. An immense grey stone wall loomed before her. At its centre was the legendary balcony she’d viewed in countless newsreels featuring waving members of the world’s most famous family. But this was real life, and she was about to breach Buckingham Palace, the official residence of Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, Queen of the United Kingdom and Her Realms and Territories.
Leaning forward, she saw a uniformed policeman check the official crested card propped on top of the dashboard, then wave the sleek car through a pair of open gates, their gold‐tipped metal railings glistening like spears in the bright beam of a brace of lights. She wished she could stop time, or at least that the chauffeur would slow the limousine, for she wanted to savour every moment of this extraordinary evening. But the car purred on, past Grenadier Guards, still as waxwork models in their red coats and improbably tall black bearskin hats, then glided beneath an archway before drawing to a halt in a large inner courtyard.
With a quiver of excitement, she gathered the billowing skirts of her ice‐blue chiffon ball gown as a footman wearing a scarlet and gold coat, black stockings and knee breeches sprang forward and opened the car door. After following the directions of several other similarly attired attendants, she made her way towards a marble staircase adorned with a wide ribbon of rich ruby carpet. Pausing, she steadied herself, placed one white‐gloved hand on the gilt balustrade and, with what she hoped might be taken for the poise of a princess, swept up the stairs.
Another liveried servant clad in eighteenth‐century dress met her at the entrance to the ballroom. ‘Good evening,’ he said with a polite half bow. ‘Are you quite ready, ma’am?’
She straightened her bare, lightly tanned shoulders. ‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’