MEMORY: The Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace: May, 2014

Pat Armstrong, February, 2023

We had been working quietly for a couple of years, behind the scenes, trying to get an
Honour awarded to Mike for all his exceptional work developing the UK Chess Challenge and including development of original teaching methods and publishing books with a difference.

Mike didn’t know this was going on, so in 2013 when he received a letter from the Cabinet Office he was puzzled. This is my diary entry, made around the time: –

“Well, Mike received a letter yesterday from the Honours Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet Office, telling him that Buckingham Palace have invited them to recommend people who have made a special contribution in their area, and they are thinking of putting his name forward as having made a special contribution to chess, to attend a Garden Party on a choice of 3 days next year. It was couched in these terms and Mike was not sure exactly what it meant. However, on reflection, I feel sure it is the result of our submission to the Honours Secretariat a couple of years ago, and our additional submission made a few months ago, when he received the Certificate of Honour from the FIDE President. …We still don’t know that our effort to get Mike an Honour was behind this letter; perhaps he was recommended by someone else entirely.”

We dressed up in our best clothes:-

Mike in his tournament director’s suit and me with a cloche hat from Ebay. The photo
above was taken by a kind member of the garden party guests while we were queueing
outside waiting to enter. No mobile phones with super cameras in those days.

Sadly we didn’t see the Queen. She did cross the lawns to the Royal tea tent (we weren’t invited into that tent) but with over 4,000 guests trying to catch a glimpse of her and neither Her Majesty nor ourselves being very tall, we weren’t lucky. We did stand quite close to Princess Michael of Kent in a brilliant pink outfit but, assuming that she would not be interested in chess, we spared her the pressure of yet more people asking for her attention.

After we had had tea and sandwiches in the non-royal tents – the picnic food was of a very high standard and there was plenty for everybody – Mike decided that he would speak to people. I don’t think he mentioned chess at all, but found out about one guest’s passion for cameras throughout the ages. Also a family from “the north” accompanied a railway employee being recognised for community service. A young woman and her partner were there because she had made a contribution to helping children from poor backgrounds.

It was, I think, something Mike enjoyed and his ease when talking to strangers and getting them to talk naturally about themselves, made the afternoon even more fun for us all. After the Queen left, again unseen by us, the crowd drifted away. I was struck by how clean and tidy the lawns were, unlike the Epsom Downs the day after the Derby! There didn’t seem to be any food left and certainly none on the ground. What a lovely crowd and certainly it was from all walks of life.

I purchased a DVD (official) of the Garden Party. It gives the impression that it was taken at the time of “our” garden party, but try as I might, I have not spotted us amongst the beautifully coiffured, hatted, suited and booted guests.

It would have been very well deserved had Michael been awarded an Honour. We were never led to expect any particular honour, but hoped for a CBE or OBE. The “We” in this sentence does not include Mike. He never knew at the time that we were making a submission on his behalf. I think it might have been mentioned later, but I’m not sure. Re-reading what we all wrote, myself and 8 others, reminds me forcefully, how much we owe to Mike and how much I miss him.


We hope to share more memories at the Mike Basman’s Memorial Rapidplay on Sunday 23rd April (St. George’s Day) at Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton. If you have a memory or favourite photograph of Mike you would like to share, please get in touch.


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