Albert Memorial review (May 2014)
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When I die, this is how I want to be remembered. This is how I deserve to be remembered. Some people just get stuffed inside an old shoebox and bundled six-feet underground, whilst other ones get a concrete headstone with their name chiseled on it. And then there's Prince Albert. Albert gets a tonne of imported stone and gold and coloured mosaics, an acre of marble and a prime spot opposite the Royal Albert Hall. All I can say is that he must have been the world's greatest husband for Queen Vic to stump up the money for this. What on earth did he do to deserve such opulence?
There's a famous old story about Prince Albert that says he didn't want a fuss made after his death. "Don't do me a statue, for chrissakes," he said (I'm paraphrasing). "I don't want anything grand." So what did his missus do? She built him the flashiest statue in the capital!
It's not an exaggeration to say that the Albert Memorial is the flashiest monument in London. I went to Windsor Castle the other day and saw Henry VIII's marker -- one of England's greatest-ever kings -- and all got was a black slab in the chapel. Churchill just got a solitary flagstone in the floor of Westminster Abbey. I suppose you could make a case for Nelson's Column being the grandaddy of statues... but even he is six-feet shorter. I always find that a little bit hard to believe when I'm standing underneath the Albert Memorial, but apparently it's true -- Nelson's Column is six-feet shorter than the Albert Memorial. That is what Wikipedia says anyway (so it must be true). Maybe they've included the height of the steps as well.
Unfortunately they don't let you past the golden gates onto the memorial itself but you can still get a decent view from thirty-feet away. When you look at the carvings on the corners, and on the ribbon of marble that runs around the base, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Albert was an Emperor. He's guarded by four giant statues of the continents -- Africa, Asia, America and Europe -- and a long line of clever-clogs in togas and suits, holding scripts and quills. It reminds me a little bit of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.
If you take the time to look then you can read their names in red (but the writing is very small -- you will need good eyes). It's like a Who's Who from world history. It starts off with famous builders like Cheops (builder of the pyramids), Christopher Wren and Pugin, then it moves onto artists -- guys like Raphael, Rubens, Titian and Turner. After that comes Homer, Dante and Shakespeare. It's all a bit strange really. Was Queen Victoria comparing Albert to these people? I don't think he sits very comfortably five-feet from this conclave.
There are probably a hundred different artists, writers, builders and thinkers in total, plus a stone set of beauties higher up. After that comes another four scantily clad women, and what looks like a choir of golden saints and angels on top (too far away for my eyes to see). And right slap-bang in the middle is the seated figure of Prince Albert, all gilded over in gold -- a bit like that blonde bird in Goldfinger.
To say that this statue is ornate is a huge understatement. If I knew for sure that I was promised a statue like this, then I'd probably top myself right now.
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