Clarence House review
Nowadays Clarence House is the official residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, but most of us still associate it with the Queen Mother. Every time her birthday rolled around she used to totter out the side gate and wave at the public. They'd line up a few kids to give her some flowers then she'd stagger back inside for a gin. This went on for years and years until she passed away aged 101.
Before the Queen Mother lived here she was up in Buckingham Palace with George VI, and Clarence House was home to her daughter Elizabeth. Our future Queen spent the first few years of her marriage here, had a couple of kids with Philip (Charles and Anne), but when the King died she suddenly became Elizabeth II and had to do a house swap with her mum.
Following the Queen Mother's death in 2002 it passed back to Charles again. Prince William and Prince Harry came along for a while but shifted into Kensington Palace as soon as William married Kate. So nowadays it's just Prince Charles and Camilla rattling around the big old house on their own.
If you walk down The Mall then it's that creamy-coloured building on the side of St. James's Palace. It's not much to look at from the road because you can hardly see anything above the tall perimeter wall. If you want to see inside then you have to book a spot on one of their August tours. That's where I am right now. I've made it through the gate and the x-ray scanner and I'm sitting in the little tented pavilion waiting for the guide. I've been here several times already and I always have exactly the same experience: it's always just me and a load of chatty old grannies and grandads on a day out. Tourists don't seem to bother with Clarence House because they'd rather see Buckingham Palace instead (I don't blame them). Clarence House is more of a stately home than a palace. Think 'duck egg blue' instead of gold. Think frayed carpet instead of red carpet. Put it this way: it's definitely a home. You can tell that people actually live here.
The tour starts in the garden where you get to see the front facade and a few ornamental beds. It's quite a small garden, just a lawn and some tall trees really -- hardly big enough for a kickabout -- but it's pleasant enough. After that you head into the hall and the first of five rooms: the Lancaster Room. This one is a cosy little sitting area with a few bookcases and a fireplace. Everyone in the group has to spread out because it's quite a small space and they let you stand surprisingly close to his ornaments -- all of his photo frames and statues and very expensive looking vases are literally inches from your elbows. But don't stray from the beige carpet. Don't step on the real carpet for chrissakes because you'll definitely get told off. And don't touch anything either because they'll probably shoot you. There are a couple of staff members keeping their beady eyes on you just in case you misbehave.
I enjoy peering at all the family photos on the tables. He's basically like a proud dad, with pictures of his kids on the desks: Harry in his old army uniform, William marrying Kate, baby photos of George and Charlotte, Camilla in her country gear, his mum and dad (the Queen and Prince Philip). Lots of faded photos of his grandparents as well (the Queen Mother and George VI). One of the Queen Mother's snapshots is especially nice because she looks a little dishevelled, as if she's had too much to drink. They're exactly like the photos that you and I might have on the mantelpiece at home -- just happy family snaps all over the place. Needless to say there's not a single picture of Diana anywhere.
There are plenty of paintings on the walls as well, but they're mainly portraits of the Royals. There are a few Blitz scenes and a stormy collection of Windsor Castle landscapes, but they're nothing like the quality of paintings you'll find at the palace. He's still kept the Queen Mother's collection of horse portraits as well (the Queen Mum loved her horses), and the bookcases are still filled with all her old Dick Francis and PG Wodehouse novels. The whole house, in fact, is like a time capsule of when she lived here.
After that comes the Morning Room. There's not much that I can say about this room really... it's just more Chippendale chairs and pictures of his kids and parents. That's what I'm trying to get across to you: it's just like a home. You're not going to walk into a room and go wow!, like you do when you walk into the Ballroom or Throne Room at the palace. They are just regular sized rooms filled with posh objects and portraits.
The Library is where they take tea with visiting dignitaries. Our guide reeled off a few names like Nelson Mandela, the Clintons and the Reagans, and oh yeah, she said, the King and Queen of Spain were here last week. So the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were having a cup of tea with the King of Spain in that very seat that's only five feet away? Yes, she said. When she says stuff like that you don't really believe it's true because you only paid a tenner to get in. Why on earth are they letting us ruffians in here as well?
The most impressive rooms you'll see are the Dining Room and the Garden Room, and it's this final room where you'll finally stand back and be impressed. It has a Middle Eastern feeling to it with red chairs and a huge tapestry on the back wall that Queen Victoria got from Napoleon III.
And that's it. That's all you get. You don't get to see any of his private rooms upstairs, just five of the public ones on the ground floor. After that they kick you into the shop so you can spend some money on chocolates and tea towels.
Guest – Brilliant review, thank you, looking forward to visiting London in October 17.
Admin – Hi, I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Clarence House is going to be closed in October, by the way, if you were thinking of visiting -- it only opens during August. Buckingham Palace will be closed as well. You might like to try a tour of Parliament instead -- that is definitely worth doing. It will only be open on Saturdays after the 6th October, though, so hopefully you'll still be here on the 23rd
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