If the walls at Kensington Palace could talk, they would have plenty to say. Home to the Royal family for well over 400 years, this is where 18 year old Princess Victoria became Queen, Princess Margaret entertained the in crowd and Princess Diana brought up her children. Now the London base of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the majority of Kensington palace is cared for by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity which recently carried out a 2 year £12 million refurbishment there. Last night I visited with my husband and other supporters of HRP to see the results of all their hard work.
The public Kensington Gardens have once more been united with the palace, and a gorgeous new wrought iron entry canopy celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Inside, the cream entry way appears very modern, and visitors are greeted by a lacy fibre optic light sculpture made of almost four kilometres of electroluminescent wire and containing 12000 Swarovski crystals. Far from being out of place, this sculpture reflects the lace in the exhibits to come and provides a great transition between the modern world outside and the history inside.
Sipping wine and nibbling canapés, we listened to a talk about the new exhibits and then went on to view Victoria Revealed.
Queen Victoria’s wedding dress
No stuffy historic installation, Victoria Revealed is a wonderful walk through the life of a woman, a wife, a mother and a Queen. Entering the Red Saloon where she became an Empress in a time when men ruled the world, I saw the strikingly tiny dress worn by Victoria and thought about how very young she was on that fateful day. As I moved through to the rooms she lived and worked in, words from Queen Victoria’s diaries were everywhere – on the carpet, on the display cases, and on squares of card hanging from red ribbons. I saw her letters and her sketchbook from when she was a child, and read the diary entry written the night she met Prince Albert while standing in the exact place she did when she saw him that first time. Her wedding dress is displayed with the words “Oh, this was the happiest day of my life”. Even the uniform Prince Albert wore on their wedding day bears her loving words embroidered on the back of the collar and on each cuff. I truly felt as if I was walking through her life, and I had tears in my eyes by the end of this innovative and evocative tour. It’s like no palace tour I have ever been on before, and I am very lucky to have toured quite a few!
You can also tour the King’s State Apartments and the Queen’s State Apartments, and several future exhibits are planned. I look forward to returning to the beautifully restored Kensington Palace very soon.
Summer 2013 opening hours at are 10.00 to 18.00 every day (last entry 17.00). The palace is a short walk from Kensington High Street.