Buckingham Palace -- Summer Opening review (Aug 2013)
This is an old review Read my most recent review here
It's that time of year again... the Summer Opening at Buckingham Palace. I've been here so many times now I almost know it better than my own house. I was walking round to see which bits of furniture they've moved. I remember waltzing through it last year at the speed of light, but I really took my time today -- partly because my knees are playing up again, but mostly because I just wanted to. I listened to every word of the commentary and poored over every picture, every bit of carpet, all the wallpaper and ceilings too. I definitely got my money's worth.
So, what do you see? Well, it's the same as every other year. The route hasn't changed at all. It starts off at the Ambassador's Entrance which always strikes me as a bit of a misfit. All of the art in the palace is along classical lines, whereas this one has a 60-foot long modern-art piece. It was done by a guy called Topolski in 1960 -- maybe you have visited the Topolski Gallery under the arches near Waterloo? He's the same guy. After that you look out into the Quadrangle -- the open air courtyard in the heart of the palace. If you're listening to the commentary then Prince Charles will cut in at this point and give you a two-minute speech during which he thanks you for coming. Then it's through the impressive Grand Entrance and up the equally impressive Grand Staircase, all decked in gold. Next comes the Throne Room, and this is where you see the first little bits of this year's theme.
Every year they have a special exhibition on a different theme. The first year I went it was all about William and Kate's wedding, and last year it was all about Faberge Eggs. This year they decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation in 1953, so the Throne Room had a few of the famous photos taken by Cecil Beaton. The commentary really went to town about it too... normally you get a description of all the rooms and a little bit of history of what happens where, but this year all of that seemed to take a back seat so they could talk about the Coronation instead. I would rather have had both, to be honest. It's quite fun to watch all the people take a seat on the wooden pews though, by the way, only to jump up when a footman comes over and tells them off. No sitting on the Queen's furniture! In the old days you probably would have been carted off to the Tower for impertinence like that.
Next up on the tour is the Picture Gallery with paintings by Caneletto, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and the like, and then you head into the Silk Tapestry Room. The East Gallery, Ball Supper Room and Balloom follow on from that, and they are totally devoted to the exhibition this year.
The Ballroom is usually one of the highlights of the tour because that's where they hold all the State Banquets. It's one of the most impressive rooms in the building. But they've put a ruddy great screen across the middle and split the room in two this year. Huh? You can't see the whole room anymore, just bits of it. And once again there's no commentary. So unless you went last year, you wouldn't even know that this is where they hold the State dinners. The second half of the room holds the real meat of the exhibition -- all the dresses and items from Coronation Day. They've even got the Queen's original Coronation gown and train. They've got the little costumes that Prince Charles and Princess Anne wore too, which are pretty cute -- they were only little kids at the time. Also on display are the programmes, invites and other interesting little momentos like that. It's a good display.
So the Coronation exhibition is pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but I wish they hadn't done it at the expense of the rooms. I'm sure that most people do a tour of Buckingham Palace to see the rooms, so when they hide a load of them behind temporary walls and curtains it ruins it. The only way you can get a good look at the Ballroom this year is by flicking through the pictures in the guidebook.
The rest of the tour follows the same route as previous years -- through the State Dining Room, Blue Drawing Room, Music Room and White Drawing Room. The White Drawing Room is one of my personal favourites because the whole place looks like the centre of the sun. Think of a bright yellow room, and then double it. Add gold all over the walls and bright yellow seats, and then hang a big chandelier about six feet off the ground -- that is what this room looks like. I think they should hand out sunglasses when you enter, to protect your eyesight from the light. It's also got a secret door in the corner where the Queen springs out from her personal suite -- a nice touch.
Then it's down the Minister's Staircase for a walk along the Marble Hall, filled with statues and paintings of Queen Victoria's family. After that you head out the Bow Room and into the garden. I always enjoy this bit because you get to have a posh cup of tea on the veranda out the back. I had a little tub of Dairy Ice Cream too, which set me back about fifty quid. If you've got any money left then you can blow it in the shop, which sells everything from biscuits and chocolates to jewellery, tea-towels and regal slippers.
I’ve been here before…
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