OK, you saw it on TV, and you saw Prince Harry and Meghan – sorry, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex” – and their wedding as only the Brits can do it. But think about this for a minute, can you imagine what it will be like for Meghan to now be able to actually go into and be inside Buckingham Palace – not as a tourist, but a “Royal?” Then again, have you wondered what it’s like inside? A few years ago, Traveling Boy’s own John Clayton got to take a tour inside and, by reading his article, you’ll know more about this awesome building, so giving YOU more “facts before you go” yourself.
As I entered Buckingham Palace – and no, I had not been requested to attend a royal celebration of Harry and Meghan’s wedding – but I had been invited to see the splendor of this sumptuous, world famous edifice known throughout the world, by the nearby (and almost as legendary) Ritz Hotel. I was there as part of a travel media group of US journalists in London to experience the unique luxury of the prestigious Ritz Hotel. As a bonus, they’d arranged for us to take the once a year Buckingham Palace tour. Every summer it opens its doors to the public and in 2018 the dates are from 21 July until 30 September, and you MUST make a reservation to take the tour.
As a child growing up in the 1940s-50s in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington I recall, as if it were yesterday there was a reverence for the Royal Family. They seemed to be inaccessible, remote and even though they were in London, they felt distant. Buckingham Palace was reserved for royals, and to actually see how and where they lived, was the stuff of dreams. Taking a tour? Well that was absolutely out of the question. So you can imagine my complete shock and surprise to actually be inside this legendary building and, even more extraordinary, enjoying a tour a few years ago. Lest you think that you get to see EVERYTHING in this palatial palace, let me disabuse you of that notion. You do NOT get to see the front part of this iconic building that overlooks the Mall and the famous balcony where – from time to time on what the PR folks at the palace call “suitable, very important events” – the Royals appear to greet and endlessly wave, to the humungous crowds in front. However, what you do see, IS most impressive.
The Ritz is only a short walk across Green Park from the Palace, and as our group walked over to the Palace I was in total disbelief trying to comprehend the fact of going inside this mythical building of my youth. We entered at the left, in the back, where you also enter to view the Queen’s Gallery of famous artworks. Then we moved into the main rooms of Buckingham Palace. We went through a series of extraordinary security procedures, and were searched and double searched, and admonished that absolutely NO cameras or photos were allowed. As I wanted proof via my camera that I’d been there, I was devastated. But I abided by the rules.
First up are the State Rooms, a suite of what I can only say with typical British understatement, are lavishly decorated public rooms where the monarch receives, rewards and entertains her subjects and, of course, those dignitaries lucky enough get one of those highly prized Royal invitations. Maybe it’s my British upbringing, but I’m not one to be easily spellbound or mesmerized, but the vast array of sparkling candelabra, dazzling wallpapers, fine furniture all nestled amid breathtaking works of art, lovingly created by some of the world’s most famous artists, is THE quintessence of mesmerizing.
When I saw the grand staircase I instantly thought of the movie TITANIC, and the grand staircase depicted in that blockbuster motion picture. But the one in Buck Palace is – at least in my view – the staircase of all times, and in my mind’s eye I visualized royal legends gracefully, royally and elegantly slowly descending on its luxurious steps. Building took place from 1825 to 1830 when the palace was remodeled for King George IV. Indeed, I walked around the inside Buckingham Palace with, I’m sure, my mouth hanging open in stunned disbelief. I could not accept the fact that here I was inside the building itself where Kings and Queens had walked, and I was now walking where THEY had walked.
Many of the Queen’s social functions are often held in the huge back garden – and the location of the Royal Gift Shop – where you can buy all sorts of what I can only call Royal Paraphernalia. Called The Queen’s Gallery Shop, it offers a wide range of exclusive gift items inspired by the royal palaces and the works of art in the Royal Collection. You’ll find home ware, china, clothing, jewelry, children’s toys, books and postcards. And yes, most of the merchandise has the Buckingham Palace insignia. If you want to spoil your kids, or hey even yourself (!) why not purchase a life-size gold throne.
The most frustrating moment came when the guide who’d given us the tour, stunned our group of AMERICAN journalists with the news that she was an American, for heaven’s sakes, and had worked at the Palace for nearly 20 years. She told us we’d have to take a different way out from the entrance we came in by. We went outside and across the courtyard area that you see on royal weddings where all the coaches and cars stop to disgorge their passengers. We then went through an arch and came out only inches away from one of the sentry boxes with a tall, red coated guardsman standing duty. I wanted, desperately, passionately to take a photo of this magical moment, but as I slipped my camera out, our guide turned and, stridently, said “No, No, absolutely not.” My photo op of a lifetime, walking across the open yard in front of Buckingham Palace, was gone forever.