LONDON (AP) — It was a stirring moment Thursday when the military band struck up "God Save the Queen" and Queen Elizabeth II appeared on the garden steps of Buckingham Palace next to her husband, Prince Philip.
She didn't wave. A quiet smile carried the day.
Then the 89-year-old monarch walked gingerly down the steps and spent nearly an hour chatting with some of her 8,000 guests before sitting down — finally — beneath the green-and-white awning of the royal tent for a welcome cup of tea.
The Queen's Garden Party: It's a tradition that started more than 145 years ago with Queen Victoria, and continues today, changed as little as possible despite the modern, screaming metropolis that now surrounds the extensive, tranquil palace gardens.
There is more security, true, and the sound of traffic sometimes intrudes, but the garden party remains a timeless tableau, complete with spice-free sandwiches (yes, the crust is removed) along with cakes and tea.
The splendor of the palace, and the presence of the queen, moves some to tears.
"It was very emotional," said Valerie Lister, who was invited to reward more than 40 years spent on heritage protection projects in Hartlepool, 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of London.
"Our fathers were coal miners," she said, sobbing slightly and gesturing to her husband Rick. "And I can't imagine what they would think to know their children are here. We're very lucky to live in this country."
The parties are meticulously planned. Guards gently create a passage for the queen to follow from the palace steps to the royal tent, and she is introduced to guests selected at random for a brief chat.
If the queen finds it a chore after six decades, no one would ever know. She handles herself as gracefully as ever, with no hint of fatigue or boredom.
It's another matter for the staff: They must pour about 27,000 cups of tea at each party, and serve about 20,000 small sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake, some topped with the royal seal.
Invitations are coveted, in part because they are so hard to come by. Guests are nominated by civil servants, charities, diplomats, the military, and others, often as a sign of appreciation for a lifetime of devoted work.
Many guests keep their invitations, which are marked with the queen's seal, and couples often pose in front of the imposing palace for keepsakes.
"I think it's just lovely that she opens her back garden to so many people," said Lt. Col. Nicholas Grace, a first time invitee. "She takes her time to meet as many people as possible. She has a great way of connecting with the British people."