She’s mingled with the elite, sewn for the queen, attended last year’s royal wedding, and sat beside Elton John. Other than that she’s an ordinary feisty little imp who just happens to drive a Jaguar.
That’s my friend Pam Reno, seamstress by trade, British born, but hasn’t been living in England for some time. I’ve known her for many years as one of the ‘fun group’ from my growing list of Florida friends.
While we watched the square tube all night long to catch the first glimpse of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, she had a perfect view as soon as the bride stepped into Westminster Abbey.
Much of Pam’s mail is addressed to her c/o her brother in Essex, England and he calls her when there is something a little out of the ordinary. He’s a prankster by nature so when the telephone rang last March and he said there was an invitation to the royal wedding, it took some convincing to prove to her it was for real.
How does one receive an invitation to such an event? When a person works for “the House” (Buckingham Palace), no matter in what capacity, the name and dates of employ, plus the type of work done, is all logged in a huge registry. Considering the Queen celebrates her 60th this year, the register has grown to an enormous size.
As a teenager Reno worked in a glove factory. Queen Elizabeth II wanted only one person making the many pairs of gloves the royals must have at their disposal. Thirteen girls, recommended by their supervisors from glove factories all over England, were presented to the Queen. She explained to the group what was expected, and they were provided with swatches of material from her wardrobe for the following year. There are many styles of glove: three-button for evening wear; two-button for afternoon or cocktail gatherings, and elbow length or longer, to be worn with sleeveless gowns. There’s beadwork, embroidery and darts for enhancement. With the longer gloves an opening is placed in the inner wrist so the fingers may come out and the glove folded back for easier handshaking.
Following the interview with the Queen the 13 girls each creatred their own designs and then met with the Queen again, this time privately. After a three-week wait Reno was recalled.
Not only did she make gloves for the Queen but for all the royals – Princess Anne, Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother etc.
When the Queen goes out she wears one pair of gloves but carries another identical pair in her purse along with an extra right-handed glove. Royal functions, which include handshaking all afternoon or evening, result in quickly soiled gloves, especially the fingers.
After four and a half years Reno, left the Royal employ….but her name and dates of service remain on the registry. She returns to England every few years and lets Queen Elizabeth know when she is in the area. If a convenient time can be arranged they get together for tea. Once she was randomly picked off the registry to attend a royal garden party.
Prince William and Kate’s wedding was not considered a ‘state’ affair but rather a ‘family wedding’, thus they were able to invite whomever they wished. Countless school mates and other friends of the couple took part in addition to the registry guests.
The invitation was very plain and formal – which is traditional for royal invitations. They are however, color coded for seating arrangements. Reno received her notice with just three weeks lead time. That doesn’t leave much opportunity for a woman to make plans for a trip overseas, find accommodation, choose a wardrobe, and quit walking on cloud nine.
How does a guest select an appropriate gift? The choice is simple… there are no “gifts” per se, but rather donations to one of the 21 Royal Philanthropies (charitable organizations) as chosen by the couple, (and no, I didn’t ask her how much, but I did overhear someone say she had issued a “healthy cheque”).
The day of the wedding she had to be up early as her group had to be seated at the church by 8:30 a.m. Riding in the taxi with her were the grocer and pub keeper from Kate’s home town.
There were thousands of people everywhere – in the gutters, in the fountains, up light poles… all nationalities, all religious denominations – and everyone out to have a good time. The crowds, many of whom had camped out all night, were well mannered.
The bride was told she should arrive at 11 a.m., but she insisted that was unlucky, so she chose to delay, and started down the aisle at 11:01.
Pam Reno saw the bride as soon as she stepped in the side door of the Abbey, but because of the way the elaborate wooden panels section off the room, she had to be content to watch the remainder of the wedding on a huge television screen.
No guest is allowed to have a camera at any royal function. Reno inadvertently threw her camera and cell phone into her purse along with other things she knew she would need during the day. These were discovered as she entered the Abbey when her purse set off the detector. She got quite a ribbing from the guards and had to relinquish them (they were returned to her later).
For the daytime wedding Reno chose a mid-calf length silver grey lace dress with plain silky jacket.
The church was a sea of hats of every color and style imaginable (and some not even describable).
Kate started the hat frenzy about a year before when she attended a function with a filmy feathery thing in her hair, and from there the whole hat scene just exploded. Pam’s was a wispy feather, ribbon and organza arrangement fastened to a comb.
Reno’s acquaintance with the young royals goes back to when they were growing up – even the late Princess Diana was a play friend if her father was at the palace on business.
After the ceremonial functions the bouquets were laid on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The wedding lasted about an hour, and seemed to go without a hitch. Everyone was exhilarated that things had gone well, so much in fact that one ecstatic young priest was seen turning cartwheels in the aisle.
Back at the palace for a reception many immediately headed for the washrooms. Knowing her way around from years before, Reno took a detour through the kitchen where the Chef grinned and pointed down the hall.
The afternoon reception was held at Buckingham Palace, where 600 guests mingled and chatted over hors d’oeuvres and champagne. At the reception, invited guests were given a slip to mark their preference for dinner – a choice of pheasant under glass, elk, or beef Wellington.
For the formal evening dinner Kate was stunning in white strapless gown with rhinestone studded waist and cashmere knitted bolero, Pam changed to a long pale yellow gown.
Seated beside Reno was Elton John and his partner. Across from her was Paul McCartney and his fiancé. Close by was a Saudi prince and his wife, as well as British soccer star David Beckham and his wife Victoria. This grouping shared a fun time despite the rigid formality of the occasion. Elton John kept picking up Reno’s fork. They joked about it all through the meal and many times Elton received an elbow in the ribs and a giggle to return the pilfered utensil. During his conversation with another guest Elton John wanted to write down a phone number. He grabbed the handiest thing to write on – which just happened to be Pam’s menu – and there went one of her souvenirs. He did, however, show her many pictures of his four-month old adopted son Zak.
Dessert was either a piece of cake similar to the eight-tiered wedding cake, or Prince William’s favorite chocolate cake. When William was young, the Chef used to make a chocolate cake that the prince loved and he always had it for birthdays and other special events. So many guests enquired about the recipe that the Chef, with the Queen’s permission, made it public:
Prince William’s Chocolate Cake
110 grams butter
450 grams dark chocolate
400 grams condensed milk
200 grams crushed digestive biscuits
15 candied cherries chopped
50 grams raisins
150 grams mixed pistachio and almonds
200 grams extra dark chocolate to melt and pour on top
In a large bowl crush the biscuits, stir the cherries, raisins and nuts into the crushed biscuits.
In a pan melt together the butter, condensed milk and chocolate; pour over the biscuit mixture and stir until the crushed biscuits are coated.
Line a tin with greaseproof paper and press the mixture into it. Freeze until needed.
When ready to serve pour melted chocolate on top of the cake or decorate with your favorite topping.
Following the wedding dinner the guests retired to another room while the dining area was cleared in preparation for dancing.The Queen loves to dance, especially Scottish Reels and Square Dancing. The younger generations enjoy more frivolous styles, and they continued the party long after the seniors had retired.
A week after returning home Reno attended another wedding. She flew to Benton Harbor Michigan where a niece tied the knot… this time in a barn with hay bales for seating. Talk about going from one end of the spectrum to the other!