Braemar Gathering: A Royal Highland Fling

By , Columnist

Zimbio.com/Queen Elizabeth II, Elle McLaren at Braemar Gathering

Apart from gazing at marching bands, ‘killing things’ (as Diana used to say), and playing embarrassing games of charades, there’s nothing the Royal Family likes to do better than watch a hefty chap in a short skirt (and hopefully some underwear) toss a large wooden pole called a caber.

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That’s part of the annual Braemar Gathering, held the first Saturday in September near the royals’ Scottish highlands home, Balmoral. The Braemar Gathering has been regularly attended by members of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria in 1848.

And little has changed except the mode of transport. This year, outriders preceded a cavalcade of Range Rovers as the royal party made its way through the little village to the afternoon’s games, accompanied by the loud skirl of bagpipes. The Rolls and the Bentleys that used to ferry the royals were kept in the garage as a nod to the recession. The Queen is always escorted by Europe's last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders - with the UK’s defence cuts, perhaps a good thing.

princephilipelizabeth.jpgThe Queen dresses like she normally does, in a bright outfit and hat, but for the men Scotland offers a unique opportunity for showing their knees. Once Prince Philip and Prince Charles are north of the Border, it’s into the dressing-up box and on with the special tartan kilts, sporrans and those thick woolly socks that must double at Christmas for Santa’s visit.

In the Braemar arena -The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park - athletes take part in the Highland Games which include a variety of track events plus the arduous Hill Race run up Morrone nearby. The star attractions are tossing the caber, putting the stone and throwing the hammer.


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The tug of war competition is a great favourite with the royals, and their guests this year included the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his wife Samantha. This was the first attendance of a Prime Minister since 2003 when Tony Blair looked bored and his wife Cherie yawned uncontrollably.

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But that wasn’t as bad as Blair’s later revelations about their annual weekends at Balmoral as “a vivid combination of the intriguing, the surreal and the utterly freaky”. Even worse was Cherie’s claim that she conceived her fourth child, Leo, at Balmoral in September 1999 after she left her contraceptive kit at home!

The Queen must be relieved that at least the Camerons, with their classy backgrounds, know how to behave in royal company, even if they were a little late arriving.

This year, William and Kate, Charles and Camilla were all surprisingly absent, and so was Princess Anne who dispatched her second husband, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, once a humble equerry to the Queen, to watch the games in her place.


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Margaret Holder has been writing about the Royal Family in newspapers and magazines for thirty years. She also broadcasts frequently on the BBC, both radio and television. She reckons she has now written more royal documentaries than anyone else in the world. Some are still being shown on channels in…

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