x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A very royal welcome awaits Sheikh Khalifa in the UK

Britain has a long tradition of hospitality for its state guests, and Sheikh Khalifa's visit will be no exception. Queen Elizabeth takes a personal interest in the arrangements, and will greet the President with a state dinner and a parade when he arrives at Windsor Castle.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth attends a lunch at Al Mushrif Palace hosted by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and members of the ruling family. Ian Jones
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth attends a lunch at Al Mushrif Palace hosted by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and members of the ruling family. Ian Jones

Life in Britain's royal palaces is extravagant only on special occasions.

Speaking off-camera about state visits, in the closest thing to an interview she has given, Queen Elizabeth told the director of the 1992 BBC documentary, Elizabeth R: "We do put on our best clothes and everybody dresses up and the best china and the glass and the gold plate comes out. Otherwise it doesn't see the light of day ... we don't actually live like this all the time."

So on Tuesday, when the President is greeted by the queen and Prince Philip, he will see the Windsors at their very best.

The President will be the guest of the queen, and she takes great interest in all aspects of the visit.

The British monarch has a special and enduring bond with the ruling families of the Arabian Gulf. In 1961, on his first visit to London, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the former Vice President and Ruler of Dubai who died in 1990, struck up a friendship with the queen.

In February 1979, the queen and prince made their first state visit to the UAE, where she and the country's founding father, Sheikh Zayed, formed an instant rapport.

As Zaki Nusseibeh, the former President's official translator, observed: "There were never any awkward moments, which are always the concern of a translator. They always found it easy to talk to each other, and not only about politics but family, horses and agriculture."

A decade later, in July 1989, Sheikh Zayed was invited by the queen to Windsor Castle, the first state visit from the UAE. In June 2003, Sheikh Khalifa, as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, paid a visit to the United Kingdom, where he was received by the queen at Buckingham Palace and was a guest-of-honour of the prince of Wales at St James's Palace.

This week, all the pomp and pageantry that the monarchy can muster will be on show. State visits always have the same fixed itinerary so that all heads of state are accorded equal treatment.

A dais will be erected on Dachet Road, Windsor, where the queen and the duke of Edinburgh will greet the President and present him to the prime minister, cabinet ministers, the lord lieutenant, the mayor and other dignitaries.

The President will inspect a guard of honour with a large mounted detachment of the household cavalry. The king's troop will fire gun salutes, and then the queen and the President will lead a ceremonial procession of up to seven carriagesdecked in UAE flags to the castle. Windsor's quadrangle will be filled with more than 100 horses and cavalry standing at attention while the UAE national anthem plays.

Once in the castle, gifts and decorations will be exchanged. As the President was awarded the prestigious Knight Grand Cross of the Honourable Order of the Bath by the queen on her visit in 2010 (she in turn was honoured with the Order of Zayed), another honour is unlikely. The queen's gifts are often books bound by the royal library's craftsmen.

The highlight of most state visits is an evening banquet, but this time the banquet will be a luncheon at St George's Hall at Windsor.

Apart from the queen, the duke of Edinburgh and other members of the royal family, the prime minister and other UK cabinet ministers will attend, along with about 100 guests with connections with the UAE. This will be the queen's opportunity to return the hospitality shown by the President when he hosted a state banquet at Al Mushrif Palace in her honour in 2010.

Days are spent choosing and cleaning the vast candelabra, vases, Stourbridge crystal engraved with the queen's cipher, plates of silver gilt, Royal Minton china, 18th century Tournai service and gold-plated cutlery. Before a single fork is laid, the yeoman of the glass and china pantry will measure out each setting with a ruler.

This will be the queen's 104th state visit, and although up to 300 staff are involved in the preparation, she will personally check the arrangements. Can guests see each other through the floral arrangements? Are the candelabra all in line? Do the microphones work? Are the seating arrangements in order?

After the non-royal guests are assembled in St George's Hall, the royal procession will form for the President and the principal guests, who will enter the room led by the lord chamberlain and the lord steward. The latter used have to enter backwards to ensure a proper pace, but this tricky task now falls to the page of the chambers. A drum roll will bring silence to allow the queen to speak. The UAE national anthem will play, and she will toast her guests and the people of the UAE.

The President will speak and then toast the queen and the duke before God Save the Queen is played. The banquet will then begin and the ceremony is over.

Only then, with the queen on one side and the duchess of Cornwall on the other, the President will be able to relax and enjoy the company of friends.