Friday, 28 August 2015

A Royal Welcome At The State Rooms, Buckingham Palace

Swoop through the Grand Entrance of Buckingham Palace and marvel at the Queen’s evening gowns

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Thomas-Blaikie-colour-176Apart from the evident allure of being the official London residence of a living monarch, it isn’t often mentioned that Buckingham Palace is a significant and historic interior in its own right. The outstanding suite of State Rooms largely by John Nash is well worth the somewhat steep entrance price for any stately-home lover.

You’ll be struck by the foreign feel of the rooms, with their ornate grandeur, carved and gilded panels, mirrors, chandeliers and elaborate giltwood furniture. There’s no hint of English plainness and restraint here. In that sense, this interior is almost unique in the United Kingdom.

The skill and intricacy of the design saves it from bombast and pomposity. The banister of the staircase – a filigree of gold curls and creatures and goodness knows what – is a superb piece of craftsmanship cleverly designed to give much-needed movement and airiness. For the immensely grand double staircase is in fact squeezed into a rather small space and could easily have looked heavy and squashed.

Every year the summer opening of the Palace is different, but this year has seen radical changes. For the first time visitors enter through the Grand Entrance, as they would if actual guests of the Queen. Thereafter, special exhibitions focus on the hospitality offered at the Palace. Displayed in the Throne Room are the knighting stool and sword, along with a number of orders and decorations. Later, you can see a mock-up of the work room where the Queen’s clothes are made, with bolts of cloth that will be used for Her Majesty’s outfits yet to come. Three of the Queen’s evening dresses from the last 40 years, with accompanying tiara, diamond necklace and earrings, are also on view, the Hartnell one from 1970 is really lovely.

The Ballroom is set up for a state banquet, but the impression, despite monumental flowers and silver-gilt centrepieces and candelabra, is of simplicity and intimacy, although there are an huge number of wine glasses with short stems – less likely to get knocked over by nervous guests. Moving on to the garden side of the Palace, there is an intriguing display of gifts given by heads of state. Finally, in the Music Room, overlooking the garden, three of Her Majesty’s recent garden-party outfits are displayed. They are free-standing and not in glass cases, so you can be within 3ft of clothes worn by the Queen.

For this year’s summer opening of the Palace, the organisers have really pushed the boat out, providing extra interest – I forgot to mention the jelly moulds and the wine lists – at every turn.

Until 27 September at Buckingham Palace, London SW1: 020-7766 7300, www.royalcollection.org.uk


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