“It was all a tremendous rush,” said my mother when I asked her what it felt like to have been a royal bridesmaid to the Queen and her cousin Prince Philip. “All the other bridesmaids had endless rehearsals, but I was thrown in the deep end, because by the time we arrived in London from India, there was less than a week to go. I only had time for two dress fittings.”
Her parents, my grandparents, had initially decided that, with everything going on in post-partition India, they wouldn’t go. It was Nehru who insisted they attend. He said if they didn’t go to the future Queen’s wedding, people would think the situation in India was worse than it was.
“Ghandi was always asking me about ‘the happy event’. But he was very concerned about what to give them. It was your grandfather who said: ‘If you really want to give them something, spin a piece of cloth, and that will be put with the crown jewels’.”
Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother, was less than impressed. She said: ‘What is this ghastly piece of fabric doing there?’ She thought it was from his ‘loin cloth’.
“The day itself was like a fairytale. We got ready at Buckingham Palace. There was a moment of sheer panic when the bride’s tiara broke as she was having her veil fitted. An aide had to be bundled into a taxi and sent across London to have it fixed. Then, just as she was about to leave for Westminster Abbey, her bouquet could not be found. It transpired that it had been popped in a cupboard to remain cool.”
“After the very moving service, we followed the newlyweds back to the palace and onto the balcony. We were met by an incredible sight: the police had been holding everyone back, but when we came out, they let them go and we could see – and hear – a sea of people surging forward. Every time the couple waved, the volume increased.”
My mother says she remembers The Queen’s delight to discover that her favorite corgi, Susan, had been hidden under a rug in her carriage so that she could join them for their honeymoon at Broadlands, my grandfather’s home in Hampshire, where they had spent endless weekends courting.
“Was there a present for having been a bridesmaid?” I asked.
“Oh yes, Before they left, Philip gave each of us bridesmaids a silver and rose-gold powder compact engraved with the initials E and P. They were all slightly different: mine has six little sapphires down the middle. So pretty.” Of course, I remember now seeing my mother never without this in her handbag, ready to powder her nose at any given moment.
My mother is one of the two surviving royal bridesmaids. She says fondly that it was a supremely romantic occasion that brought hope to a country mired in post-war austerity.