In the complicated love-hate relationship between the British builder and his skittish employer, the British homeowner, there is one talisman and touchstone of how well or how badly things are going: tea.
If a builder refuses a cup of tea, it’s often taken as a coded message that he doesn’t really trust or like his employer, and can be an early warning sign that things other than the milk might end up going sour. But, by the same token, if he starts making himself eight cups a day and kicking back with his crew in the sunshine, that can also be a sign that your new kitchen extension definitely won’t be ready by Christmas.
When placing their tea order, many builders rejoice in being more fussy than Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally as they reel off the exact amount of milk and sugar they require, and specify whether the spoon and teabag should be left in or out of the mug.
One builder working at Buckingham Palace, according to a new documentary, pushed these customs to the limit when he got into the detail of the vessel he wanted his tea served in.
While working underneath a table in one of the palace’s grander private rooms, the builder responded to a disembodied female voice asking him if he would like a cup of tea by replying: “Yeah. In a mug. Two sugars. Builder’s tea. I don’t want any of that nonsense I had the last time I was here, all that fine china and all that saucer stuff.”
A few minutes later, the well-spoken woman returned and said: “I’ve put your tea on the table here.”
He peered up and saw the familiar outline of the Queen leaving the room.
The story is related by Kevin Andrews, the former royal upholsterer to the late Queen Mother, in a forthcoming Channel 5 show Secrets of the Royal Palaces.
The documentary also reveals that there used to be a bar at Buckingham Palace, but it was shut down after staff got “worse for wear” once too often.