Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tiara Time!

This is the time of year when you can spot a lady with the sort of sculptured hairdo I used to see at my mother’s bridge parties: folds of interlocking backcombed hair, glistening with lacquer and concealing enough hairpins to jam an airport x-ray machine. It’s a gorgeous sight with a diamond tiara atop. You can’t really wear one unless you provide that order of padding.

At today’s State Opening of Parliament peeresses in evening dresses crammed the red leather benches of the Lords’ chamber and gave some relief to the sea of red gowns with white fur collars tied with a black ribbon that the peers (male and female) wear on this one occasion a year. Some of the Queen Titanias who choose to wear a tiara will have left home by 9 am like that, startling commuters, but they had probably been up since dawn with their hairdressers. I know of one stylist who goes round to a string of clients on her motorbike to fix the ice on their pretty heads.

Nancy, wife of Viscount Astor wearing her tiara with the Sancy diamond at the State Opening of Parliament in 1948

It’s a long wait for the Queen to arrive wearing the Imperial State Crown to take up her golden throne and read her speech that is written by the Government. Incidentally, darlings,it’s so nice to see it worn instead of having to jostle the crowds in front of the crown jewels at the Tower of London! Also, it's far better to sit on the Labour benches and look across to the Tory ladies, who clearly have the greatest tally of tiaras. I saw some whoppers and longed for binoculars to inspect them but then I didn’t want to get caught on telly snooping.

c 1996 Lady Haden Guest a.k.a Jamie Lee Curtis takes her seat. I remember the press photographs at the time showed that this was a simple gold laurel leaf design. Perfect.

I also spotted the fakes. What’s the point of that? I don’t know. I do know actually because once I wore one from Butler & Wilson myself. Try anything once (except folk dancing and incest) is my motto. I am embarrassed about it now. A lovely ancient aristocrat offered to lend me hers but I have a block head and this was far too dainty. Besides, she had told me in her crackly voice, unable to pronounce her ‘Rs’ that someone women wear a tiawa with all the gwace of a cart horse. I decided to wun a mile at that point.

No carthorse here. Loelia Duchess of Westminster photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1931 wearing a kokoshnik halo-shaped tiara. I have seen this, or something very similar, in action!

The Queen arrives at the Palace of Westminster in what I suppose you could call her travelling coronet. The Imperial State crown weighs about 37 ounces and would be difficult to get out of a coach in. She dons that in the robing room which houses her coronation throne.

I personally think that all the beauty of this bling is surpassed by the young Queen herself in this video, giving us a guided tour of the crown she wore today.


  1. Oh sorry, Gaye. Never took a photo of us/me at this occasion. Oh, dear was that a bit daft?

  2. Hilarious, Rose. I asked an East-Anglian once if the phobia for R's was an affectation harking back to Victoria, or just a signifier of a specific class. He leaned toward me, nearly falling off the bar stool, and said "S'facking speech impediment."

  3. Love the way HM pronounces palace - palis!

  4. Hilarious and instructive. Loved the mixture of scholarship and irreverence! Or should I say iwweverance? ( I've often wondered if the inability to pronounce the letter R had its origins in aristocratic speech of an earlier period? Surely it isn't limited to your ancient aristocrat~ or for that matter to Marlene Dietrich?)

  5. Three erudite correspondents, rurritable, Blue and Toby W are all interested in the byways of British pronunciation. I hope you all read each others' comments. I grew out of my inability to pronounce the R in Rosemary by the age of 5. Does this say something about the awistocwacy? Oh hush my mouth. Blue, I have been saying palace over and over again and erm.. it is coming out palis too. What would you say across the pond? Now what the royals do say is hice for house. I'm enjoying this!

  6. As daffy Duck would say-"SUFFERING SUCCOTASH"
    I would be a nervous wreck wearing those diamonds. Bet it is fun to own them.
    I have to make a plan to sell my Paintings.
    I am so impressed with this post. TA TA

  7. Thanks Yvonne. I can tell you, the woman I saw wearing that massive russian halo tiara was bending under the weight of it and a neckful of emeralds and diamonds. She didn't look as radiant as her jewels!

  8. Rosie, lass, I say th'ouse. As in "in th'ouse" so that would be "queen's int' palace." Reight?

  9. My mutha who grew up in Louisiana told me, as if I didn't know, "I don't have an rrr in my head." My mother has been gone for over a decade, but this line lingers on. Somehow you don't think about the underpinnings required for tiara wearing. I think it may fall under "extreme sport."

  10. Ee bah gum lad! That was meant for you, Blue.

  11. HBD, Tiara Wearing: an extreme sport. Spot on! Your mutha would approve.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your memories and the excellent video. I'd not seen that before. She certainly was a lovely young woman, wasn't she.

    I liked the line about the chips! They'd be bigger than nearly 100% of the diamonds anyone else would own. Innit?

  13. Of course it's Palace to rhyme with Chalice, what other possible variation
    could there be? Still, this question of pronunciation fascinates me no end.
    One of the great pleasures of looking at old films from the 1930s and '40s
    and early '50s is hearing British English spoken in quite a different way from today. No doubt Keira Knightly studied Celia Johnson's speech patterns when K made the film Atonement. Anything pre 1950 has a distinctive ring. Girl is pronounced Gell not Gurl, for instance, by Gladys
    Cooper's generation. I could go on and on....

  14. That's just what I thought, Meg. Oh to be able to deploy that kind of understatement. When are you coming back to Blighty?

  15. Having talked with Gaye several times, I can tell you she's got a slight southern piedmont accent(Atlanta-Raleigh urban). My mother's side of the family had a harder variant of this you could refer to as "incremental swaying diphthong", "Burlington Mills", or "Alamance hostile". My father's family migrated from the Gastonia area in the golden era of the blues, and speak the way Hank Williams sang. They were originally Scots-Irish; McManuses, like Elvis Costello.
    My fourth grade teacher tried to coach me out of my dialect, which resulted in me speaking in a much slower treacly southern. Bereaved Andy Griffith is what I think, when I hear a recording. A girlfriend in college from Devon said I sounded Dublin when I was making sense, and like a Glaswegian huffing rubber cement when I wasn't paying attention.

  16. Blimey! Rurritable, you never disappoint.

  17. Toby Worthington, well yes it's Palace to rhyme with Chalice. But I wonder if the Queen doesn't call it 'pelis'?


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