King Charles' Coronation Guest Says Kate Middleton Is 'Such a Pro' at Welcoming Everyone (Exclusive)
The First Lady of Iceland tells PEOPLE how the Princess of Wales knew just what to say at a special reception at Buckingham Palace on coronation eve
Eliza Reid attends many events as the first lady of Iceland, but says the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla was especially memorable.
Eliza's husband Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has been president of the Nordic republic since 2016, and the couple have had the honor of representing their country as diplomats since. The first lady, 47, exclusively takes PEOPLE inside what it was like to attend the historic crowning ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and how Kate Middleton made visiting dignitaries feel welcome at a kickoff celebration the night before.
What was it like inside the abbey?
Eliza Reid: It's an honor to represent one's country at these events, and it's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We were at the funeral [of Queen Elizabeth] as well. They were the same but also different. There was a similar pattern of the ceremony, but the funeral was looking back and reflecting and paying respects. The coronation was about celebration and looking forward. There was a lot more color in the abbey.
They seat the heads of states by doing the Commonwealth first and then in alphabetical order. We were seated in the same row as Ireland and Israel. At the funeral, we were at the other side of the aisle, and the story in Iceland was we were two rows ahead of the Bidens, but it is only because it's alphabetical order. I think it's a good system or else there would be some bruised egos.
We couldn't see very much but the sound was exquisite. It's such an old building and the acoustics were wonderful which makes you think, "I hope I don't cough or sneeze." So even though we couldn't see what was going on, the music was outstanding, and I remember that also from the funeral.
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Did anything about the coronation feel modern?
Eliza Reid: It's an ancient ceremony, it's been going for centuries, and that is important for Britain and the realm to maintain that. Given the constraints of what it had to be, they tried to incorporate slightly more modern elements. It was a very religious ceremony and I think a lot of people were surprised by that. I think I was because I didn't know what to expect.
Within those limited confines I think they tried to showcase other dimensions, but it's a very traditional ceremony and the fact that it still exists is tradition because the other monarchies in Europe don't have these big coronations.
It makes a lot of money and brings in a lot of money. I grew up in Canada so the Queen was head of state so I'm very used to the concept.
Related:How King Charles' 70-Year Wait Prepared Him for the Throne 'Better Than Any Previous Monarch'
Are you now friends with any of the other heads of states or first ladies?
Eliza Reid: Now we've been serving in this role for a number of years, you recognize people who are already there. You are seeing people you met recently at other meetings or events. You aren't allowed to take photos in the abbey so it would be very gauche to take selfies in the church.
The heads of state went in a separate entrance, so we didn't mingle with the celebrities, but we saw the other heads of state.
Did you attend the reception at Buckingham Palace?
Eliza Reid: We went to Buckingham Palace the night before for a reception. We got to talk to the Princess of Wales for a little bit. She is such a pro. You can see these people kind of freeze up around her, and she automatically goes into "Thanks for coming, I'm so glad you're here." I almost didn't want to talk to her for too long, because I know she has to get to everybody.
What else did you do besides the coronation while you were in London?
Eliza Reid: The day before the coronation was my birthday so I went out to dinner with my husband. The day of the coronation I was up at 5 am. Even though you are attending one event it takes a lot of the day and it's strangely tiring considering you aren't in the spotlight, so we just relaxed that evening. We have four kids together — I can't remember the last time we both traveled together and had the evening off. It was great.
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What did you wear?
Eliza Reid: I rented a dress to wear to Buckingham Palace and at the coronation I borrowed a pair of shoes from my friend. I'm trying to be sustainable.
There is a new company in Iceland renting out dresses for events — Spjara. It was black and white and long, and "day dress" was the description. I wore these orange earrings to pop the color. When you are with all these heads of states you want to blend in, you don't want to stand out. And my new thing is flats. Nobody is looking at the feet of the first lady of Iceland.
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