Kate Middleton: What the Duchess needs to know for her first state banquet

This week Kate Middleton is helping host Chinese President Xi Jinping in London, with the crown jewel of the official state visit being a lavish Buckingham Palace banquet held on Tuesday evening. While the Duchess has certainly learned the royal ropes – and has likely already picked out her tiara – here's what she'll be needing to know on the big night.


Kate will be given notes on the guests nearest to her to aid with dinner-time chatting Photo: Getty Images

Around 170 guests will dine in the palace ballroom, sitting around a horseshoe-shaped table, laden with flower decorations, candelabra and six glasses per person – for water, a champagne toast, red and white wines, a dessert wine and port. It takes three days to lay the table and Queen Elizabeth, a meticulous hostess, likes to run her eye over the preparations.

Where to sit
Kate will be given notes on where she's sitting and who she will be next to. The Countess of Wessex recalled one occasion where she hadn't done as much homework as she should have. "I shan't forget the look I got when I couldn't find my chair and she was looking to do her speech," she joked during ITV's documentary Our Queen. "I decided I might study the notes a little more carefully next time."

It takes around three days to set the table according to meticulous royal protocol Photo: Getty Images

Who to talk to
Queen Elizabeth was brought up with good old fashioned table manners, which require that you speak to the person on your left for the first course, changing to the right for the second, alternating for each subsequent course. Formula One star racing driver Lewis Hamilton revealed how the Queen herself once schooled him on etiquette when he attended a state banquet. "I was excited and started to talk to her but she said, pointing to my left, 'No, you speak that way first and I'll speak this way and then I'll come back to you'."


President Obama talks to Queen Elizabeth, hopefully during the correct course
Photo: Getty Images

Which silverware to use
Guest are advised to start with the silverware that is on the outside of their place setting and work their way in. They are served from 19 stations are set up around the room and manned by four staff – a page, footman, under butler and a wine butler.

The Countess of Wessex (top) recalled flubbing her etiquette, deciding then and there to "study the notes a little more carefully next time" Photo: Getty Images

What to wear
Female royals are expected to wear formal evening gowns and tiaras – and everyone's waiting to see what Kate will choose. She has only worn a tiara on two previous occasions – the Cartier Halo tiara at her 2011 wedding and the Papyrus Tiara at the annual diplomatic reception in 2013.

On Tuesday, she may also be wearing the Royal Family Order of Elizabeth II, a sign of the monarch's personal esteem.

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