When the Queen heads off on a tour of Commonwealth countries like Australia, it’s not a matter of throwing just any old thing into a suitcase, according to an Australian Associated Press carried by the West Australian on 24 July (”On tour with the Queen”).
This report is about an exhibition at Buckingham Palace from 26 July to 30 September 2009 of dresses and jewellery worn by Queen Elizabeth, and gifts presented to Her Majesty by the people of the Commonwealth.
This exhibition, Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour, marks the 60th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth and will evoke some of the most important overseas tours undertaken by QE II during her reign.
The Queen visited the exhibition on 23 July:
According to AAP, months of careful planning go into everything from the colour and design of her outfits to the speeches she will make and who she meets.The report continued:
And she doesn’t travel lightly.
As well as taking several suitcases brimming with regal outfits, there has to be room for the gifts she inevitably receives, whether they be a diamond brooch from Australia, a totem pole from Canada or a giant whale tooth from Fiji.
The report continues:-
Over the past 56 years the Queen has made more than 170 official visits to the 53 Commonwealth nations, including 15 trips to Australia.
A large number of the clothes she wore on those tours remain in her wardrobe, while the countless gifts she was given are displayed within many of the royal family’s private homes.
Now for the first time a selection of the outfits and tokens of affection given to the Queen by her Commonwealth subjects are on display at Buckingham Palace in London.
The exhibition, titled Queen and Commonwealth, gives a fascinating insight into not only what her majesty has worn on tour over the past five decades but how people from Australia and New Zealand to Pakistan, Africa, Canada and the Pacific have expressed their fondness through their unique gifts.
On display are a spectacular selection of 28 evening gowns and day dresses plus jewellery, paintings and other artworks associated with the Queen’s extensive tours.
One of the most eyecatching evening dresses is a floor-length, off white silk crepe gown the Queen wore to the gala opening of Sydney’s Opera House in 1973.
Designed by one of her favourite couturiers, Norman Hartnell, it features a zig-zag pattern embroidered with pearls, sequins and beads reminiscent of the peaks on the Opera House’s famous “shells”.
Another is a vivid yellow silk chiffon gown embroidered with sprays of wattle designed by Ian Thomas for the Queen to wear during her 1974 visit, but which stayed in her suitcase.
At the time the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were on their fifth tour Down Under, but the monarch had to rush back to England when a general election was called.
After performing her royal duties in London, she rejoined her husband but never had the chance to dazzle Australians with her patriotic frock.
Exhibition curator Caroline De Guitaut said the Queen’s couturiers often incorporated into their designs subtle tributes to the particular Commonwealth country she was visiting.
As well as the gowns which gave subtle nods to the Opera House and Australia’s national flower, others worn in Canada sported Olympic-style sequinned rings in honour of the 1976 Montreal Games and maple leaves.
“At first when I looked at the embroidery (on the Sydney Opera House gown) I thought, ‘it’s awfully reminiscent of the shape of the Opera House’, and I thought perhaps that was too obvious a reference,” Ms.De Guitaut said.
“But Hartnell and the other couturiers that have worked for the Queen always pay a great deal of attention to the inspiration from the events that the Queen was going to be undertaking while wearing their clothes and usually this is quite overtly expressed in the sense that we see embroidered national emblems.
“But here it’s something else altogether. I think he really did take inspiration from the shape of the architecture.”
The thrifty monarch has reworn several of the daytime outfits she took on tour including a striking yellow dress with matching knee-length jacket featuring a white trim she donned for Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse in 1970.
Bright colours are a common feature of the Queen’s tour wardrobe no matter where she travels.
“Colour is very important,” Ms. De Guitaut says.
“When she visits Australia we see a lot of yellow because it’s an important colour because of wattle.
“It can also be used as a complement to a country and to make the Queen visible.
“Ordinarily when she’s at an engagement she is surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people and it helps her to be visible.
“They are there, for the most part, because they want to see her and if she blends into the background then her clothes aren’t doing the right job.
“So we do see quite vivid colours. And the Queen can wear and has worn virtually every colour.
“The only colour that we very rarely see, of course, is black because it’s associated with mourning and visits to the Pope.”
Just as colourful are the gifts collected by the Queen on her travels.
Some are simply dazzling, such as the yellow and white diamond wattle brooch presented by the federal government on behalf of the Australian people during the Queen’s first visit in 1954.
“It’s something the Queen wore immediately on that visit and she still wears it,” Ms.De Guitaut said.
“When she received your Prime Minster (Kevin Rudd) in audience for the first time (at Buckingham Palace in April 2008) she wore this brooch.”
Other items from the Queen’s jewellery box include a diamond and platinum fern brooch, which was a Christmas present from the women of Auckland in 1953.
There’s also a cute gold porcupine brooch from a 1972 trip to Ghana as well as a diamond maple leaf she wore to Canada when she was simply Princess Elizabeth in 1951.
As well as opening up her wardrobe, the Queen allowed De Guitaut to display several paintings and artworks given to her over the past six decades.
There’s Aboriginal dot paintings, a carved emu egg, boomerangs and a didgeridoo as well as an impressive Maori kiwi feather cloak originally presented to the Queen in 1953 and which she still takes with her when visiting New Zealand.
One of the most impressive artworks is a colourful tribal portrait of the monarch from the people of Papua New Guinea that usually hangs at St James’s Palace.
Many of the gifts were handmade from natural materials such as the shell and glass collages from Tanzania and the three sperm whale tooth necklaces, or Tabua, presented by the Paramount chiefs of Fiji.
Ms. De Guitaut spent more than a year choosing items for the exhibition, working closely with the Queen’s personal dresser and other staff.
“I think it helps to illustrate her involvement with the Commonwealth and the duration of that,” Ms. De Guitaut said.
“And it’s nice for us to bring the items together and try to at least evoke a sense of the tours she has undertaken.
“We wanted it to be representative of different countries, different regions and to have a nice spread throughout the 58 years of the Queen’s reign.”
The exhibition opens at Buckingham Palace on July 26 and runs until September 30.