Buckingham Palace -- Summer Opening review
I wonder how difficult it would be to find an empty cupboard at Buckingham Palace and hide in it when no one is looking? They've got about three million of them and they can't check them all, surely. I'll wait until one of the tourists tumbles into a piece of furniture (because that always springs the guards into action) and then I'll jump behind a heavy velvet curtain until nightfall. Then when I hear the Queen coming past in her pyjamas I'll jump out and say hello. And then I'll bore her for five hours with my ideas about how we can improve England. I'm a taxpayer and I pay her wages, so the least she can do is offer me a cup of tea and a slice of cucumber cake. And after that she can take me to the Tower of London in handcuffs and shoot me.
Did you know that there's a secret door into her private apartments? I'm being serious — I'll tell you about that later. Actually it's not so secret, because they tell you about it on the audioguide. I've been to the Buckingham Palace Summer Opening so many times now that I know it off by heart.
Don't tell anybody that I said this, but I still get a little thrill when I'm standing in the ticket area waiting to go in (yeah I know, I'm sad). So that shows you how good it is — if it can still excite me after I've already seen it five thousand times then imagine what it's like for first-timers. The queue can be horrendous though. If you buy a ticket online then it's not quite so bad, because they put a time on it when you can breeze through the gate (I definitely recommend doing that). But even then you'll still have another twenty minutes in the waiting pen. You have to go through all the x-ray machines and pat-downs and interrogations — the security is super tight. I reckon they'd even strip-search the Queen. It's a bit like being a lemonade bottle on one of those labelling machines, being bumped down the conveyor belt past all the scanners and staff.
Once you've made it inside you can walk from room to room at your own pace, listening to the history on the headphones. It's not the most riveting guide I've ever heard -- it tells you what each room is used for and who designed the curtains, etc — but they only give you about two minutes talking for each room, so you're not going to learn a tremendous amount. Presumably they are trying to push the tourists through the rooms as quickly as possible so they don't hang around and dawdle.
This year's tour follows exactly the same route as every other year, so rather than go over exactly the same stuff again, I'm only going to point out the stuff that's changed. If you want to read about the rooms in more detail then you can check out all my previous reviews (the links are provided below).
The first big change comes in the Throne Room where they've set up a little exhibition of medals, so you can see what all the gongs and ribbons look like. After having a good look around I have decided that I want a CBE and an Order of Merit. If she's run out of those then I'll settle for an OBE, but I'm not having an MBE — that is what they give to lollipop ladies and people who sweep the streets for forty years. Anyone who raises five quid on a curry night can apply for one of those. I want a knighthood or a dukedom or fifty quid in book vouchers.
This year's big exhibition starts in the Ball Supper Room. In previous years I have seen the Queen's Coronation dress and Kate's wedding dress, and a collection of crowns and Faberge eggs in here, but this year they have decided to show what goes on behind the scenes at a State occasion. It sounds quite interesting on paper, but in reality it's just a mock up of the wine cellar, pantry, dressmaker's room and admin office. I'd rather just see the Ball Supper Room on its own without any of the exhibition if I'm honest, but luckily things improve tremendously from here on...
The Ballroom itself has been set out as if for a State banquet, complete with dinner tables and a dinner service. It really is spectacular, and it's the best that I've ever seen the room look. You can walk around the whole lot and see how they lay out the table for the guests... everyone gets 46cm of tablecloth for five cut glasses (water glass, tasting glass, champagne glass and two wine glasses), plus three forks, three knives and spoons, a folded napkin and a spotlight. After that comes the salt cellar, mustard pot and pepper pot, and a butter dish with a couple of coins of butter. And somehow they've got to squeeze all of the plates and your dinner in there too. It's reminds me of that scene in Pretty Woman when she's trying to learn which fork is used for which dish. All I know about dinner etiquette is this: elbows off the table, don't talk while you're eating and you don't use the same spoon that you've been using to stir your tea for slurping the soup.
The State Dining Room comes next (which is not where they hold the State dinners, confusingly), and there's another little exhibition of gifts that she's been given from visiting Heads of State. She seems to get a lot of porcelain plates ("Oh no, not more bleedin' plates!"). There's a nice leather-bound Bible and a carved wooden temple too.
The White Drawing Room is where the visiting dignitaries are first introduced to the Queen; and it's also where you'll find that secret door that I was telling you about earlier... there's a table and a mirror in the corner which swings open to reveal the Queen emerging from her private apartments — surprise!
One thing that I have definitely noticed this year is that there are many more places for the tourists to sit. Back in the old days (last year) you pretty much had to stand on your feet for the entire two hours, but now there seems to be a seat in every room. I think that's a shame because I used to enjoy watching the tourists getting told off by the guards as they tried to sit on a priceless piece of French furniture.
After a few more rooms you'll come out onto the veranda overlooking the garden, where you can have a sit down and a cup of Earl Grey tea. You might want to bring your chequebook along because it's the kind of cafe that cuts its sandwiches into triangles and then sells them for fifty quid each. All the food has got strawberries on top, and comes with a sprig of greenery that nobody wants to eats. But you have to buy something... even if it's a bottle of water... because then you can go home and tell everybody that you had a cup of tea at Buckingham Palace, and they'll be well impressed.
I think you get a better class of tourist at the palace. I realised this when I saw my unshaven fave reflecting in the dustbin. Everyone is wearing floral dresses and summer shirts. They've got cotton scarves and glasses on, and even a few pearl necklaces (seriously!). If someone turned up in a shell suit then I reckon the Foot Guards would shoot them. Everyone must be making an effort in case the Queen pops in. Apparently she always packs her bags for Balmoral when the palace opens up to the public, so she doesn't have to rub shoulders with her subjects. I don't blame her though... imagine if ten thousand tourists came round your house and started touching all your stuff.
The last part of the tour is a five minute walk along the western edge of the garden to the exit. All you can really see is a wide expanse of lawn and a pond and some woodland trees, because all of the good stuff is only accessible on a garden highlights tour (I tried that the last time I came... check out my review). On the way you'll pass a souvenir shop that sells all sorts of Royal tat — chocolates and tea towels, slippers and mints, shortbread and coffee, cups and mugs and rings and things... if they can paint the Queen's face on it then you can bet your life they'll be selling it in here.
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