It was best frocks and fascinators to the fore as 8,000 members of the Women’s Institute – one from each branch – descended on Buckingham Palace last week to celebrate their centenary.
And among the excited throng decked out in their frills and finery were Stoke Hammond WI secretary Valerie Blackshaw, Chris Bryant from Soulbury and Chris Page of Great Brickhill, all unanimous in their opinion that it was a wonderful occasion and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Valerie, 65, chose lilac chiffon and lace, topped with a purple hat while Chris B – with one eye on the weather – was in a lime green trouser suit teamed with a jaunty fascinator.
Chris P dazzled in black and cream with matching headpiece held firmly in place by an army of bobby pins.
Valerie, 65, said: “There was such a happy atmosphere, with two military bands. They were playing the national anthem when we went in.
“The refreshments were out of this world – very delicate little sandwiches and cakes – and afterwards we walked round the gardens, which are to die for. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Chris B, 60, was equally enthusiastic. “It was wonderful, an honour and a privilege, “ she said. Her only regret? “The time went so quickly!”
Chris P got closest to the Royals – Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Princess Alexandra.
She said: “Princess Alexandra was very elegant and really beautiful. She was also very chatty.
“Sophie was laughing and cheerful but her floaty silk dress kept billowing up in the wind.
“I only saw Camilla from the back – she was wearing a navy coat dress and a big hat.”
Chris, 70, will never forget her first impression of the garden party as she walked down the steps from the palace: “There was just a sea of women in all their finery looking very swish.
“I’ve only been with the WI for about 18 months and I was really shocked when I won the ballot. “I’m so grateful I was allowed to go. It was a wonderful day, a great experience and something I’ll never forget.”