In Westminster, I cut through into Green Park, so-named for the absence of flower beds.
One popular tale about the origin of its name relates to King Charles II. Supposedly, his wife, upon discovering that Charles had picked flowers in the park and given them to another woman, ordered that all flowers in the park be pulled up and none should ever be planted again.
Its starkness makes it a popular setting in spy films for clandestine meetings, when the backdrop of St James’s or Buckingham Palace can hint at the machinations of power behind the scenes.
It’s still possible to see suited men hurrying through, carrying a document case, or sitting on a park bench. The imagination can easily turn them into spies making a drop or whispering the clue that will eventually unravel a sneering villain’s plan for world domination. The reality is that they are more likely a hotel receptionist or a luxury car salesman on a lunch break.
Through the trees, I can see London's gleaming white Victoria Monument and flashes of gold from the gates of Buckingham Palace itself. Crossing The Mall, I have to flinch my way through a barrage of cameras snapping the view of the palace, a taste of the life of a celebrity.
I join the crowd on the steps of the Victoria Monument, which make a perfect platform for viewing the bear-skinned guards patrolling the front of the Queen’s residence. The presence of the Union Flag rather than the Royal Standard shows she is not at home, and groups of heavily armed police makes the soldiers’ endless ceremonial pacing seem even more pointless.
“The Royal Family and the Monarchy are enormously important to the tourism draw of the UK,” says Bernard Donoghue, Director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA). “The vast majority of overseas visitors say that the top reasons for coming to Britain are history, heritage, tradition, pageantry and our museums and galleries. Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s are on any overseas visitor’s top ten list of things you must do in London. They are associated with Royal events and that has a huge effect.”
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