Over the years, I’ve been privileged to visit the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace a few times, including on smaller, after hours tours with fewer than 20 other people, so I know them pretty well, but they never fail to take my breath away. Once, after one of the smaller tours, we were given a glass of champagne to drink in the Bow Room surrounded by history and looking out onto the fabulous gardens. We were then escorted out in small groups through the huge quadrangle, under the famous balcony and past the guards at the side gate. The tourists outside the gates were going mad with their cameras, thinking we were famous, and I experienced what it must be like to be snapped by the paparazzi, with the distinct advantage that they were behind the gates! The deception continued when, taken aback by the tall young man (who at the time bore a passing resemblance to Prince Harry) striding confidently across the gravelled courtyard, the guard at the gate saluted my son and addressed him as ‘Sir’! We disappeared into a taxi, leaving the tourists wondering who we were, and thinking they might have spotted someone very special indeed. I’m sure they were very disappointed when they had a chance to examine their photographs more closely!!
This year, the smaller tours became much more expensive and almost impossible to book due to the popularity of the Duchess of Cambridge’s dress so I decided to brave the crowds on one of the ‘self guided’ tours. Luckily, many of the dozens others on the tour had not seen the actual State Rooms before, so I was able to kind of whiz through the bits I had seen and move on to the ballroom and the dress almost between groups. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty crowded, but I was able to get right up next to the glass cases and see everything at very close range.
I have to agree with the Queen, the dress did look kind of spooky with the beautiful Cartier halo tiara suspended above a headless mannequin, but I was so enchanted by the beauty of the dress, I soon forgot about that. The lace, made by the Royal School of Needlework, is absolutely exquisite, and you can see the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock (the four emblems of the countries in the UK) in their individual beauty. The Duchess of Cambridge is even tinier than she looks on television, and the dress has the smallest waist I have ever seen on a modern wedding gown. The hips are padded (oh, to need padding on your hips to fill out the shape of a dress!) and there is a small but distinct Victorian bustle at the back. It is one of the most beautiful wedding dresses I have ever seen.
The shoes, a replica bouquet, and the Duchess of Cambridge’s earrings were in a separate glass case, which a bit of patience allowed me to get very close to as well. The shoes are incredible, with lace overlaying the satin of the shoe itself, ‘Alexander McQueen’ stamped inside. The earrings, designed by Robinson Pelham, are just gorgeous. A small oak leaf holds the earring on the ear lobe, while a hoop of diamonds encircles a perfectly formed acorn. The acorn and oak are symbols from the Middleton Family Crest, granted to them by the Queen. I love diamonds, but even more than the sheer beauty of the jewels was the detail, right down to the little top on the acorn.
From the Ballroom you move through to the State Dining Room, where the Royal Wedding Cake is on display.
There’s a very distinct sword mark in the side of one of the bottom tiers, where the Royal Couple cut the cake, but the rest of it is intact. (Smaller side cakes were cut for serving.) The detail in the icing is – well I’m running out of adjectives here – once again exquisite. Tiny perfectly formed icing flowers (rose, thistle, shamrock and daffodil again) decorate the myriad cakes that form the beautiful whole. Small lacy scallops drop down from some of the tiers, and the whole lot is crowned with an icing bouquet of perfect lily of the valley. I have never before seen a wedding cake like it. Its designer, Fiona Cairns, deserves to be very proud.
I went to the Palace on the last day of opening for this year and I am so grateful that I did as it appears the Duchess’ dress is destined for storage, and only a few rare outings are planned in its future in order to preserve it. It was such a privilege to be able to see these precious mementos of a wonderful day so closely, and to somehow share in the happiness of what must have been a very special wedding day indeed.