Michael Rodent’s family has been associated with this largest state room at Buckingham Palace – the only one fitted with twin thrones – ever since its opening in 1856 with a ball to celebrate the end of the Crimean War, when the first Sir Michael received his peers commission to remodel the interior wainscoting. He took the opportunity, then, to build in some strategically placed spy holes which were later used by various British Governments for viewing certain notables invited by the House of Windsor. Indeed, they performed sterling service during the Kaiser’s visit in 1912 and, again, in 1935/6 when King Edward VIII was emotionally involved with Wallis Simpson, providing the information used by the Baldwin Government to request his abdication. However, they have fallen into disuse over the past few decades and Mr Rodent needed access to the original plans in his family’s vault to pinpoint their present locations.
At the east end of the grandly appointed room is a Musicians' Gallery where a military orchestra of the Scots Guards played a selection of music during the banquet. This provides one of the best views and was the viewing location of choice that night.
“The president, in his rented tails, seated next to the queen, who was wearing a diamond tiara, was surrounded at a large U-shaped table by more than 60 people; each place set with seven glasses for wine and champagne. The banquet menu was consomme with sorrel, roast halibut with herbs, breast of chicken with basil, roast potatoes, Savoy cabbage and salad, followed by vanilla praline and coffee ice cream. Five wines, including vintage champagne, were also served,” read Rodent’s notebook, “but I fear Mr Bush enjoyed very little of it, as every time he raised a morsel to his mouth Her Majesty put down her fork!”
It would appear that while Mr Bush had been correctly coached on Palace etiquette: that everyone lowers their cutlery the instant the Queen does, he had not been given the necessary tips on how to make the best of his meal while the opportunity presented itself. Instead of heartily tucking in, he politely gave full answers to all questions cunningly and incessantly plied him by those familiar with royal banquets, which left little time for his own enjoyment of the food in the royally allotted span.
Rodent recalls: “A footman’s arm suddenly appeared and deftly whisked the president’s plate away. And as Mr Bush’s halibut solemnly made its exit – totally untouched - his eyes, as mournful as those of the fish on his plate, followed it all the way to the door. And, when the same thing happened to the chicken and roast potatoes, tears started to glisten in his eyes. Adam’s apple bobbing frantically, his lips opened and closed in a spasmodic, yet noiseless, chant; while knuckles, still clenching the cutlery, whitened to the same shade as his cheeks . Fortunately, though, he’d managed a complete forkful of Savoy cabbage and three heaped spoonfuls of the chocolate ice-cream before they, too, wended their way to the kitchen in a footman’s hand.”
A later log-entry, taken from a viewing from the wainscot spyhole fitted in the Belgian Suite (where the Bushes were staying) gives us the following: “On Mr Bush’s return, he immediately rang the service-bell and asked for two large steak and mayonnaise sandwiches to be brought. Then he sat and added an entry to his daily diary: BBQ – Bush Banquet with Queen. Wonderful ice-cream preceded by delicious but uneatable visions. Let’s try the same technique for the Medicare Bill!”