On Thursday 1 March, Fortnum & Mason was honoured to welcome HM The Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge to its Piccadilly store.
Greeted by enthusiastic cheers and applause from the Fortnum’s staff, who had gathered on the Ground Floor to meet their guests, the royal party enjoyed a leisurely tour of the famous Food Halls, escorted by MD Beverley Aspinall and Chairman Kate Hobhouse. The Queen was dressed in an eau de nil suit with gold braid decoration, which chimed perfectly with Fortnum’s signature eau de nil livery.
While the Queen inspected the many different kinds of honey with Fortnum’s beekeeper, Steve Benbow, the Duchess of Cambridge discussed the finer points of loose-leaf tea before joining the Duchess of Cornwall at the confectionery counter, where they were offered tastings of fudge, jelly beans and crystallised rose petals.
Fortnum’s holds two royal warrants, for HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales, so much of the produce on display would have been familiar to the royal visitors – not least the items from the Highgrove Estate of HRH Prince Charles, which are sold alongside Fortnum’s own products.
A special display of a new United Services tin was another focus of attention; produced in honour of the Diamond Jubilee, it contains Queen Anne teabags and Clotted Cream Digestives. As a gesture of support to our armed forces, many of whom will miss the Jubilee celebrations, Fortnum’s will be sending these tins to around 15,000 servicemen and women around the world; the remaining 7000 tins will be sold at Fortnum’s, and £1 from each sale will be donated to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association. The Queen was also shown the many products designed to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, and seemed amused by a biscuit tin that played the National Anthem.
The Queen also met a number of craftsmen and women who had been awarded scholarships by the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, the charitable arm of the Royal Warrant Holders Assocation. A collection of their work is currently the subject of an exhibition on the First Floor, and the Queen seemed particularly interested in a display of millinery by one of the scholars.
To complete their tour, the royal party was invited to inspect the near-complete renovations of the St James’s Restaurant on the Fourth Floor, which is being transformed into a superlative and elegant tearoom for the 21st century and has been renamed the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. The Queen unveiled a plaque, which will take pride of place on the newly painted walls, and the three royal guests were each presented with a personalised hamper, containing such things as chocolate truffles, handmade preserves and Fortnum’s dog biscuits – an appropriate gift for these keen dog-lovers.
The Queen and the Duchesses were then joined in a mid-morning tea party by around 150 selected guests, including former members of staff as well as members of the Weston family, which owns the historic store. One guest, 86-year-old Joan Goff, worked at the store during the Second World War and remembered Princess Elizabeth visiting Fortnum’s during her time there.
The royal party left the store to more applause from the waiting staff, and completed their visit by unveiling a plaque to mark the regeneration of Piccadilly. Watched by Mayor Boris Johnson, all three were presented with posies of daffodils before waving goodbye to the hundreds of onlookers who had gathered to witness this exciting event.