Prepping for the Queen Tests the Commoners

By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jacqueline Bowens knows how to decipher the intricacies of life or death trauma, but the directives from Buckingham Palace have her flummoxed.

" 'Day Dress' for the women," frets the Children's National Medical Center vice president. "We're thinking that's Business Attire."

"Or are we supposed to wear dresses?" worries Terry Orzechowski, the Washington hospital's director of volunteer services. " Can women wear pants to meet the queen?"

"Have you ever seen a woman wearing pants and meeting the queen?" Bowens asks. Orzechowski doesn't answer.

Today, on her private charter British Airways Boeing 777, Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Richmond, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip. On Sunday, they will head to Washington with their entourage of 35 -- a group that will not include a private chef but does include dressers and hairdressers.

Mastering the royals' esoterica is sending American staffs from Richmond to Washington to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt into a fear-tinged tizzy. E-mails are pinging back and forth between the queen's page and the director of the Virginia Governor's Mansion. In the last week alone, 300,000 people have clicked on a special Virginia Web site, seeking info about the arrival of Her Majesty. At NASA, when Goddard officials offered a chance for 200 employees to simply sit in an auditorium with the queen, 900 responses immediately flooded back.

We may have won the Revolutionary War, unpowdered our wigs and freed ourselves from monarchical conventions. But that has not kept Bowens, at Children's -- where every first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy has visited and foreign dignitaries regularly stop by -- from enduring two months of meetings and walk-throughs. She has created for hospital staff a six- to eight-page "protocol paper" on "the dos and the don'ts and the activities" of a royal visit set to last 40 minutes, max. For those more actively involved in the visit, there is "a full notebook."

So will Children's serve the queen tea -- or a juice box? (Probably tea, Bowens says: "Lipton works for us," but they expect to offer British and green teas, too.) Is it proper to Purell royalty before she meets kids on the cardiac unit? (No need, Bowens says. The playroom she's visiting is not susceptible to infection.)

Similar vapors are evident in Richmond, where Virginia first lady Anne Holton will host the queen, and 30,000 people are expected to jam into a square that holds 13,000.

"Hats are a big topic -- lots of questions about hats," says Amy Bridge, director of the Governor's Mansion. "The first lady did a lot of thinking and lot of consultation about that."

She will forgo the hat Thursday but wear a new navy-blue topper with a short brim and silk bow Friday, when she accompanies the royals to Williamsburg -- all the better to take advantage of the out-of-whack ratio between hat-shopping time and hat-wearing time. Because finding this hat was no easy feat, Bridge says. Not even for Holton, who herself has a distinguished history of manorial politesse: Before returning to the mansion with her husband, Gov. Tim Kaine, she lived there as a teen when her father, Linwood Holton, governed the commonwealth.

"I think you have to do a lot of trying on to find the right hat for the right look," Bridge says.

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