I made a long-anticipated visit to Buckingham Palace yesterday. I took a tour of the State Rooms, which are those used for State events – receptions, bestowal of honors, dinners, etc. – and it was a fascinating 90 minutes. The palace staff does an excellent job of getting you in, through security, and on your tour, all without the obvious security presence of, say, a tour of the White House. The admission price (£15) included an excellent audio guide.
Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s residence in London and also includes guest rooms for visitors and offices for the management of the monarchy’s operations and diplomatic relations. The palace has 775 rooms, including 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, 78 bathrooms, and the 19 State Rooms I visited. The palace came into being as a palace and was first used in 1837 and, today, has a staff of 800.
The State Rooms were marvelous – huge, ornate, beautiful, packed with works of art and amazing furnishings – everything you’d want to have if your goal was to impress the socks off visitors and dignitaries. The walls are hung with paintings by Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Titian, and many more. And yet, despite all the glitz, there’s something tasteful about these rooms (unlike the truly overwhelming golden splendor of Versailles, for example) and that’s very British, of course.
One reason I’ve waited so long to visit Buckingham Palace is that, for the first time ever and only in August and September, for the benefit of the tour, the main palace ballroom has been set up for a State Dinner. Wow! And what a set-up: seating for 200, glassware galore, gold and silver services, exotic candelabras, floral displays, etc., all laid out to perfection. The room itself is huge with massive chandeliers, ceiling decorations, and the U-shaped table doesn’t begin to fill it. Some interesting videos of a State dinner were shown in a side room and they’re also available online: check out these cool videos about the preparations and running of a State dinner.
My favorite piece of art was the Table of The Grand Commanders, a 4-foot diameter round table, made of Sèvres porcelain and once belonging to Napoleon. It took six years to make and the top, which looks like it’s inlaid with a variety of rare materials and features cameos of various French generals and admirals, is, in fact, a single piece of porcelain. Absolutely amazing craftsmanship!
Our tour wound up in the 40-acre garden behind the palace and the exit path took me along one side of it. It was a grey, wet day but the gardens were impressive nonetheless and must be wonderful in good weather. There was, alas, no Royal sighting. However, if you are ever in London, I highly recommend this tour.