All That Pomp: King Felipe & Queen Letizia’s First Day in the UK

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What a day! I had hoped to be able to dash off a quick mid-point update, but unfortunately work precluded that lofty plan. I will say that it was exciting to see the new engagements hit the news as I sneaked glances at my phone in-between meetings. A state visit, particularly a royal one, might be even more fun than a tour, but who’s to say? (Well, we can after next week, I suppose.)

Anyway, I’m going to break the day’s events up into two posts, saving the state banquet for a little later this evening, so check back to see Kate in all her tiara and lace glory. For now, we’re going to focus on King Felipe & Queen Letizia’s formal welcome by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, including that fantastic procession down the Mall and the hilariously awkward greeting with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

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The Mall dotted with Spanish flags in honor of the visit

Let’s start at the beginning.

As the BBC put it in a news story yesterday:

“This visit is nothing if not a survivor, having been called off – once in 2016, when Spain endured 10 months of political crisis without a government, and again this year, when UK Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in June. ‘These have been times of great difficulty on both sides, with the double cancellation telling its own story,’ says Ana Romero, a leading Spanish journalist and royal observer.”

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Before we get distracted by state coaches and fancy dress, it’s worth remembering that there are very real issues at play here, not least of which is Brexit’s impact on trade between the two countries and the hundreds of thousands of British citizens currently residing in Spain. There’s also the tricky issue of Gibraltar, which, to refresh those not up-to-speed on the “Rock” (this very much includes me), I will attempt to give a quick summary: Gibraltar is British territory on the Iberian Peninsula and has historically been a bit of a touchy subject with Spain. It was expected that Felipe would use Brexit negotiations as an opportunity to open the issue back up given his speech to the UN General Assembly last fall, in which he said:

“I invite the UK, on this first occasion at the UN after Brexit, to end the the colonial anachronism of Gibraltar with an agreed solution between both countries to restore the territorial integrity of Spain.”

…And that expectation was spot on based on his speech this afternoon, but we’ll get there.

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Politics aside, the relationship between the two families is close, which makes sense given that all parties are distantly related and claim descent from Queen Victoria (who doesn’t?). Felipe’s parents, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, have spent holidays with the Charles, the late Princess of Wales and their children, which, to put this in less formal speak, essentially means they’re all family friends. Indeed, until 2014, Felipe and Charles had a fair bit in common, both having the unique experience of spending the majority of their adulthoods to-date waiting for the throne.

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Felipe and Letizia leaving Madrid on Tuesday

Now, let’s get into it. Felipe and Letizia were given a formal send off in Madrid yesterday and then greeted in London by grey skies, rain and Queen Elizabeth’s lord-in-waiting, Viscount Brookeborough. They were escorted to a hotel where they spent the night, however during the rest of their trip they will be residing at Buckingham Palace. (As a quick fashion aside, Letizia’s white ensemble was Hugo Boss.)

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Felipe and Letizia were greeted by Charles and Camilla at their hotel the next morning for what turned out to be a very friendly, if clumsy, hello between the four. Apparently there was some miscommunication over one kiss or two, not to mention some rather intense hand gripping. Oh well, C&C would have the opportunity to make up for it later in the day.

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The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh met them for their official welcome at Horse Guards Parade this morning. News reports are noting that this will likely be Philip’s last state visit given his retirement later this year, and that it’s been over 30 years since the Spanish Royal Family visited the UK in any official capacity. Quite the historic occasion on a few levels, then.

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Charles and Camilla escorting Letizia

Together, Philip and Felipe then inspected the guard of honour.

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In two separate landaus, the couples then took part in a procession down the Mall to Buckingham Palace (akin to what we see during Trooping the Colour). Letizia and Philip rode together as consorts, while the Queen and Felipe rode separately as the monarchs. For the occasion, Letizia was decked out in a yellow coat dress by Felipe Varela and Prada heels. QEII, on the other hand, gave us a royal recycle of her outfit from Ascot last month.

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Following the procession, all four sat down to a private luncheon at BP, during which Felipe became what is known as a “Stranger Knight” or “Extra Knight Companion” of the Order of the Garter. Casual, casual.

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There was then a showing of artifacts in the Palace’s Picture Gallery relating to Spanish history, a nice touch that will be replicated at Westminster Abbey tomorrow when the couple are especially shown Eleanor of Castile’s tomb. (At first glance, I thought Letizia had somehow changed clothes after lunch, but it appears her coat dress simply showed up as white in some of the interior shots.)

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Apparently the Queen presented Felipe with love letters from Queen Victoria Eugenie to King Alfonso XIII, Felipe’s great-grandfather, a couple who truly cemented the modern link between the two families.

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Charles got some flak for this greeting as well

Felipe and Letizia then left BP to travel to Clarence House for tea (and maybe sympathy) with Charles and Camilla, with Letizia, in fact, quickly making a costume change in-between. In a nod to her host country, the red dress was designed by Burberry.

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Following that, the royal couple set off for the Palace of Westminster (aka Parliament) where Felipe delivered a speech in which he offered the usual diplomatic language, noting how deeply intertwined the two countries were. As for the Rock, he said:

“To overcome our differences will be greater in the case of Gibraltar. I am confident through the necessary dialogue and effort, our two governments will be able to work… towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved.”

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And where is Gibraltar in all this? Well, they have responded by pointing to the fact they have some say in the matter and they have repeatedly voted to remain British. Or, as its chief minister noted:

“In the times in which we live, territories cannot be traded from one monarch to another like pawns in a chess game.”

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Following the speech, Felipe and Letizia mingled with Members and invited guests at a private reception, before returning to BP to rest up before the most iconic portion of the trip: the banquet.

We’ll cover that shortly, so check back in a couple hours.

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