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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 22:14 GMT 23:14 UK
Queen dines with her prime ministers
Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath, the Queen, Jim Callaghan, John Major
The Queen's advice is valued by her premiers
The Queen has dined in Downing Street as Tony Blair brought together her previous prime ministers to celebrate her 50th anniversary on the throne.

The event marked the start of the official Golden Jubilee celebrations and comes ahead of her address to MPs and peers on Tuesday.

Notable guests
The Queen and Prince Philip
Sir Edward Heath
Lord Callaghan and Lady Jay
Denis and Lady Thatcher
John and Norma Major
Lady Soames
Countess of Avon
Earl of Stockton
Lady Wilson
As well as the Queen and Prince Philip, all her five living prime ministers and their accompanying spouses attended the dinner, which lasted about two-and-half hours.

Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, John Major and Edward Heath were all at Number 10 for the event.

They were joined by relatives of past premiers, including Sir Winston Churchill's daughter, Lady Soames and the Countess of Avon, Anthony Eden's widow.

Descendants of Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as well as Mary Wilson, widow of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson were also there.
Lady Thatcher arrives for the dinner
Lady Thatcher was accompanied by Denis, her husband

The Queen, wearing a sparkling aqua coloured dress, was welcomed by Tony and Cherie Blair as she arrived in Downing Street with Prince Philip.

The party dined on a menu including duck breast and turbot steak, all prepared by celebrity seafood chef Rick Stein.

Speaking ahead of the event, Sir Edward Heath, who was prime minister between 1970 and 1974, said he expected to be an informal occasion.

Complete freedom

The former Conservative premier told how he had valued the Queen's advice and experience during regular meetings in the 1970s.

"In the morning my secretary and her secretary would meet and they each had a list of things they wanted to discuss and they were put in order and that is what we started with," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The menu
Cured duck breast with melon and pickled ginger
Roast troncon of turbot with hollandaise sauce, Cornish new potatoes and seasonal vegetables
Golden raspberry cranachan with Chivas Regal
"Then she would ask the questions that she'd got down and I would ask mine - we would discuss them and that was fairly formal.

"Then after that we abandoned any notes or any list and talked to each other about the things that were in our minds, which very often we'd never told our own officials we were going to raise.

"That gave us complete freedom to talk on current problems wherever they were and whatever was going on."

Oldest premier

He added: "[The meetings were] an opportunity of taking advantage of her experience and advice and this of course is tremendous.

Lord Callaghan
Jim Callaghan joked about the red carpet as he arrived
"It really is quite remarkable that the sovereign should have been there on the throne for 50 years continuously and accumulated so much experience..."

Sir Edward added that he had been looking forward to the occasion enormously.

Although his premiership began 32 years ago, he is not the oldest living former prime minister.

Lord Callaghan, who was Labour Prime Minister between 1976 and 1979, celebrated his 90th birthday in March.

He was accompanied to the dinner by his daughter, former cabinet minister Margaret Jay.

The Queen will continue her jubilee celebrations on Tuesday when she addresses both houses of Parliament inside Westminster Hall, where her mother laid in state earlier this month.

Past controversy

Commons Speaker Michael Martin and Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine will propose humble addresses praising the Queen at the gathering.

The Queen is likely to be uncontroversial in her remarks, although in a similar address for her Silver Jubilee in 1977 she did make what were seen as pointed remarks about devolution.

She said: "I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern reland.

"Perhaps this jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Lister
"Dinner parties don't get much more exclusive"
See also:

10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair hosts Callaghan party
28 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Lord Callaghan celebrates his 90th
24 Oct 00 | Europe
Former PM Heath to retire
24 Oct 00 | UK Politics
The things Heath said
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Thatcher told to quit public speaking
23 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Tories salute Thatcher
10 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Major to stand down
10 Mar 00 | UK Politics
John Major: A life in politics
08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair unveils second term vision
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