This afternoon, The Duchess of Cornwall hosted 8,000 members of the Women’s Institute at Buckingham Palace for a garden party to celebrate the institutes 100th birthday.
Camilla is a member of the Tetbury WI, near Highgrove, and was joined by at least one lady from every branch in the country. The Countess of Wessex, Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Alexandra also attended, all as members of the society.
The most famous WI members – the Calendar Girls – met Camilla in The Queen’s back garden to celebrate the institution’s centenary year. The women posed for a semi-nude calendar in 1999 to raise money, following one of the members’ husband, John Baker’s diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The events were turned into a blockbuster hit called ‘Calendar Girls’, starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.
The original stars of the calendar wore their trademark black dresses, a string of pearls and a single sunflower, the flower Mr Baker grew before he died.
Baker’s widow, now Mrs Knowles, said: ‘It’s just brilliant to be here with these ladies, all these fantastic WI ladies.
‘When we first did the calendar it was a big thing for me to do, John had just died and we were doing it in his memory and we’ve raised millions for (the charity) Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.’
Mrs Knowles spoke of the calendar: ‘We never thought we would sell so many copies of the calendar, we don’t mind people having copied us, but we were the first.’
The Women’s Institute was formed in 1915, in a bid to rejuvenate rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food to help combat German naval blockades. The first group was established in Anglesey.
The Queen is also a member of the WI at Sandringham, and attends one meeting per year over the festive period. The Duchess of Cornwall joined in 2006.
Feature photo: Dan Marsh