I’ve been casually trying to catch a glimpse of the monarch in the flesh for the best part of a decade and it suddenly dawned on me that I was running out of time fast. Fortunately, I had a visit to London scheduled just weeks later. This was it, I vowed — the trip where I would finally spot the world’s most famous woman in real life.
I’d like to say I got all strategic with this, but I basically looked up Buckingham Palace on Google Maps and then booked into the closest hotel I could find — fortunately for me, this was the Rubens at the Palace, a five-star heritage property opposite the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, complete with liveried footmen straight out of your London dreams. A short walk from Victoria Station, the hotel has 161 rooms and an upscale steak restaurant, a curry house, a relaxed South African bar, a traditional tea room a sushi and champagne bar and a gin bar.
Understandably, given its location, the rooms and suites are named after members of the royal family. We scored the Duke of Cambridge suite (was hoping for Meghan, or at the very least Harry, but tried to be cool about it).
The room is on the third floor with a view of the Mews. It is luxe, with a separate sitting room, central hall, oversized bedroom and full bathroom with tub. The suite is lavishly furnished with antique and custom-made finds, right down to the carpet, which features hundreds of tiny crowns.
The hotel frequently makes top 10 lists of London accommodation and is particularly popular with children. My 2 girls were met by the children’s concierge for their customized check-in, complete with tiny stuffed corgis to keep them company for the duration of the stay and a ‘Rubens passport’ which they could get signed by numerous members of staff.
five-minute stroll to the front gates of Buckingham Palace. The Queen was in residence when we visited (a special flag flies when she is) but you’ve no chance of spotting her from the front, though it’s worth seeing the spectacle that is the changing of the guard (Fun fact: It doesn’t happen every day any more. Check the website before you show up to avoid disappointment).
You can get a little closer to Her majesty from July to Sept when the Palace opens its doors to paying guests for several weeks of the summer — sadly, this overlaps with the Queen’s summer holidays once she decamps to Balmoral, leaving her private rooms empty.
CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW
Day one of Queen-hunting took me to the Chelsea Flower Show, an annual event Her majesty attends without fail. Tickets are hard to come by but our building caretaker worked his magic and off I went (minus the kids as under-fives aren’t allowed). Sadly, I used to be each day too late, with the Queen and different senior royals creating their rounds the previous day.
TROOPING OF THE COLOR
We weren’t in London the right time of year, but if you’re around within the second week of June, the Trooping of the Color is a sure-fire way to spot the Queen. The OTT parade celebrates the monarch’s birthday (her actual birthday is in April but the weather is rubbish then, so it is publicly celebrated in June instead) and she always takes part. If you’re keen, grab a spot on the parade route, or show up super early to nab a place close to the palace balcony to watch the complete family assemble for the air force flyover.
May and June are also garden party months at Buckingham palace. The Queen hosts three garden parties at the palace once a year, inviting thousands of people to mingle on the lawns and eat crustless cucumber sandwiches. Senior royals frequently attend and pre-drinks and after parties spill out in surrounding establishments, including the Rubens. Upon returning to the hotel one afternoon, we found guests buzzing about spotting Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie on their way to attend the day’s garden party.
In the end, we didn’t even need to leave our hotel to see Her Majesty. Disheartened by our lack of royal sightings, we were sitting in the spectacular Rubens at the Palace tea room on our last day enjoying a Royal High Tea when the lady in question drove right past the window, in what seemed like slow motion, flanked by police cars in her custom-made Bentley, with extra-large windows for our viewing pleasure.
It was an encounter that was over in moments but it left the entire room speechless. Then, people started to laugh, almost embarrassed by how enthralled we all were, and the spell was broken. And just like that, my mission was complete.
Sources: Kerry Warren