If ever there was a programme suited to Christmas Day viewing on BBC One, it
was The Queen’s Garden. So it must have been pretty galling for
the corporation that this unprecedented glimpse behind the walls of
Buckingham Palace was a gift to viewers from ITV.
This was perfect television for the post-lunch slump, as warm and cosy as Alan
Titchmarsh’s tank top. His promise to unearth “the deepest secrets of this
hidden royal treasure” didn’t turn out to be quite so dramatic – the
presence of a hallucinogenic toadstool not quite living up to the recent
tabloid headline “Her
Maj’s Magic Mushrooms!” – but the little details were a
delight. The Queen grows her own poinsettias. Her rose garden smells of
garlic, used as an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticide. The
Palace also has its own beehives.
There was a smattering of history, with Lucy Worsley popping up to give us
gossipy snippets about kings and queens, and charming archive footage. The
young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were shown playing ball games and
feeding the ducks at the Palace lake; we were taken to the gap in the wall
where the sisters are said to have spied on the outside world, gazing
wistfully at ordinary children. And we saw how the royal inhabitants have
moved with the times: while Henry VIII used the land as his personal hunting
ground, the Queen granted permission for her lawn to be turned into a
temporary football pitch for a charity event hosted by her grandson and
president of the FA, the Duke of Cambridge.
It all looked lovely, with time-lapse photography and swooping overhead shots,
but it felt as if the BBC’s wildlife team could have done it better (footage
of pipistrelle bats eating the Queen’s midges was OK, but was there really
nothing else to be seen after dark? The Palace must be the only place in
London not overrun by urban foxes).
With permission to film for a year, this was an undoubted coup for ITV. I
waited in vain, however, to glimpse the Queen doing a spot of deadheading,
or the Duke of Edinburgh roaring by on a ride-on lawnmower. Still, it’s a
two-part special, so they might be saving the royal cameos for this Sunday’s