This year brought Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. Salute our longest reigning monarch by holding your big day at one of the royals’ favourite venues
Words: Tobias Gourlay & Millie Milliken Illustrations: Sprankenstein
Happy birthday, Gan-gan, was no doubt young Prince George’s message to his great-grandmother when she turned 90 on 21 April. Public celebrations of this milestone saw Dames Shirley Bassey and Helen Mirren perform among 1,500 participants at Windsor Castle, while a 10,000-strong street party took over The Mall. It can’t be denied that the Windsors know how to throw a party.
It clearly runs in the family, as our potted history of royal knees-ups shows. From Henry VIII’s five-day feast at The Crypt to Harry’s hijinks at The Goring before his brother’s nuptials, we’ve found some of the best wedding venues with regal connections. Well, if it’s good enough for royalty, eh?
A conga at the Ritz
On 8 May 1945, more than a million jubilant revellers celebrated the end of WWII in London. Among them were the future queen, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret. While others were busy kissing policemen and embracing on The Mall, Lizzie and Maggie went incognito to join a conga line that paraded through The Ritz
(020 7300 2507). Today, the hotel hosts 200 for ceremonies and receptions. Its Grand Hall makes for majestic photo ops.
It was on the sprung ballroom floor at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
(020 7201 3620) that the two young princesses first learnt to dance. You could take your first dance here too.
The feast must go on...and on
In 1531, the Bishop of Ely was out to impress Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, so he hosted a grand social in the 12th-century Crypt beneath St Etheldreda’s Church near Holborn. The feast lasted five days and the show-stopper was swan, stuffed with larks stuffed with sparrows.
Today, The Crypt
(020 7242 8238), with its 8ft-thick stone walls, makes for atmospheric receptions with up to 200 guests catered for by the Bleeding Heart restaurant next door.
In Mayfair, Quaglino’s
(020 7930 6767) was the Queen’s supper spot of choice one night in 1956, making it the first public restaurant ever to host a reigning British monarch. It still holds its own as a glamorous venue, especially for a city wedding.
(01732 865224) was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. After her demise, the Kent property ended up in the hands of Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. Today, the castle hosts weddings that it promises won’t end in decapitation. Ceremonies can be held under the arches of the lakeside Loggia, before receptions in the Italian Gardens. With a huge fireplace, the Inner Hall (left) comes into its own in winter.
Forty two miles from London, Leeds Castle
(01622 767877) was turned by Henry VIII into a plush royal palace. Set on two islands on a lake amid 500 acres of parkland, it was a stop-off for Henry and 5,000 hangers-on as he journeyed from Greenwich to meet the King of France in 1520. Looking out across the moat, its Henry VIII Banqueting Hall is a grand setting for a wedding breakfast after tying the knot in the refurbished Ceremony Room.
Rocking the Brighton Pavilion
A bon viveur and Brighton regular, the Prince Regent (soon to be George IV) commissioned celebrated architect John Nash to build him an exotic pleasure palace that would become known as the Royal Pavilion (03000 290905). In 1817, for a lavish feast in honour of the Grand Duke of Russia, George called in the great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême. Among the eight soups, eight fish dishes, 40 entrées, 32 desserts – the list goes on – Carême served up eight patisserie centrepieces, including a 4ft-high marzipan mosque. Two hundred years later, the Pavilion’s red-and-gold Music Room, resplendent with lotus chandeliers and carved dragons, makes an extraordinary wedding backdrop.
Plan B George’s dad, George III, lived at Kew Palace (020 8332 5641), whose gardens were home to England’s first kangaroos and are now ripe for weddings. The Queen hosted her 80th birthday celebrations here.
Between Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace, overlooking St James’s Park, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace
(020 7969 5224) occupies the spot that used to be Carlton House – George IV’s home for a couple of decades at the turn of the 19th century. Today, the venue is home to the British Academy, and its balconies, columns, domed ceilings and black marble staircase make a suitably regal setting for weddings.
George IV oversaw the development of iconic bits of London like Regent Street and Buckingham Palace, and his paws are all over ZSL London Zoo
(020 7449 6562) too. Originally planned as a summer palace for the playboy monarch, surrounded by villas for his mates, the site was turned over to the Zoological Society of London. Today, it makes a rare wedding venue with celebrations organised around exclusive takeovers of the animal houses.
Go large like Victoria
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were regular visitors to Hatfield House (01707 262055), home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury. For one three-day sojourn in 1846, the food and drink bill topped £75k (in today’s money). A game pie served 550, and a 96-stone ox was roasted on the front lawn for the locals. The childhood home of Elizabeth I hosts stately weddings in its 15th-century Old Palace and more intimate affairs in its modernised Riding School.
Plan B For five years from 1809 the exiled king of France Louis XVIII held court at Buckinghamshire’s Hartwell House (01296 746502), which now hosts marquee weddings for up to 150.
Named after the 19th century’s first couple, the Victoria & Albert Museum (020 7942 2888) hosts evening weddings throughout the week. Receptions in the stylishly lit John Madejski Garden can give way to dinners in the adjoining Dorothy & Michael Hintze Sculpture Galleries. If your taste is more Renaissance than Ancient Rome, the Raphael Gallery can seat 400 in a setting that would satisfy the most discerning royal art collector.
Opened in 1815 as The Coburg, The Connaught
(020 7107 8853) takes its name from Queen Vic’s third son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. The five-star property has been modernised, but retains its traditional English values, including the city’s smoothest butler service and a shoe-shine operation overseen by John Lobb. Close to Mayfair’s Farm Street Church, it has seven function rooms for wedding parties of up to 200.
The Goring will never be boring
Those looking very closely at Prince Harry during the royal wedding in April 2011 may have noticed a limp as he accompanied his brother down the aisle. The story goes that, on the eve of the wedding, some young Royals descended on The Goring
(020 7396 9000) where Kate Middleton had set up home before the big day. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, the prince exited the hotel bar at 3am by jumping over its terrace into the secluded garden. Result: a twisted ankle. The venue is also adept at hosting more sedate events for up to 20 ceremony guests and 100 for breakfasts and receptions.
Plan B Prince Philip chose The Dorchester (020 7629 8888) for the first of his two stag dos in 1947. After some formal shots, the press were invited to pose for photos themselves as a memento. Immediately after, Philip’s private secretary ordered the flash-bulbs to be thrown against the wall, preventing any further pics of the night. Today, its beautiful ballroom will light up any bride’s face.
Princess Grace of Monaco and Nancy Reagan were among guests at Claridge’s
(020 7629 8860) for Charles and Diana’s wedding breakfast in 1981. The event saw 500 of Her Majesty’s nearest and dearest gather for a screening of the ceremony followed by dinner and dancing in the 1930s Ballroom. This is where 450 guests can be hosted for lavish receptions or 250 for a wedding breakfast. The 18th-century Drawing Room is the spot for intimate ceremonies.
Hailing itself as the Theatre of Varieties, The Box Soho
(020 7434 4374) arrived from New York in the same year that William and Kate got hitched. Taking up residence in the former Raymond Revuebar, the den of debauchery counts Prince Harry and his cousins Beatrice and Eugenie among its regulars. This is after-party territory: its risqué burlesque shows can be tailored to your needs, and receptions organised for up to 200 guests until 3am.
This article was first published in Squaremeal Weddings 2016