Last week I had the privilege of attending a press preview of the reopening of Kensington Palace – an activity made even lovelier by the rare appearance of the sun which successfully enhanced the already impressive scene. I decided to bring along my mother, a National Trust friend and someone who has knowledge of the palace in its former, lesser glory.
The first thing my mother noticed from the 12 million pound restoration was the new open and grand entrance, relocated to draw in visitors from the busy Broad Walk and Round pond area of the park. Previously tourists had entered via a fairly hidden side entrance, one that lacked suitable prestige for a place steeped in such important British history.
Of course as Fashion Editor you can guess which part of the tour and renovation I was most excited about. Apartment 1A, which will be handed over to Duke and Duchess of Cambridge next year, is home to an exhibition of dresses worn by William and Harry’s late mother, named Diana: Glimpses of a Modern Princess. Lining the wall that the leading up to the exhibition room is some striking wallpaper depicting the Princess’ most iconic photographed moments and memorable fashion choices. Exhibition designer, Interior stylist Finola Inger commissioned Fashion illustrator Julie Verhoven to create the beautiful watercolor illustrations, which while modern and bold work as a tasteful introduction to the space and a rightful nod to our favourite royal fashionista. Deirdre Murphy, the curator has said that she didn’t want it to feel too museum like, and I think that has been achieved. That said al I must admit I was a a tad disappointed with the amount of gowns on display. I had envisioned a V & A type array, but perhaps that is actually the issue. Anything that Diana wore is hot property so may be owned by other parties or housed in other locations the world over. That said we do get to get up close and personal to the black silk chiffon Versace evening dress, a design which created one of her sexiest fashion moments for the Apollo 13 premiere. We also see a dress which you can hardly believe could be described as controversial, but back in 1981 the black taffeta gown she wore to announce her engagement to Prince Charles caused quite a stir. A stunning ivory column gown and a black and white Bellville Sassoon dress complete the monochrome collection. Adding a splash of colour to the sultry room is a second dress by one of her most loyal designers, Catherine Walker. The Magenta and purple Sari inspired silk-chiffon dress was worn during a royal tour of Thailand in 1988 and stands as a reminder of both her ability to adapt to her given situation or location, as well as her willingness to take risks.
The rooms where Queen Victoria grew up have been renovated with a new major exhibition called ‘Victoria Revealed’ which aims to details the fascinating and at times heartbreaking stories of her life. We are able to tread the same floors she did as a child and learn about the many stages of her life through fashion, photographs and objects. The room which marks the death of her beloved Albert is purposefully simplistic, the darkness of the interior and the few objects featured poignant enough to mark the tragic event that shaped the rest of the Queens life. While there are the opulent rooms with all the grandeur expected of a palace, as well as those kitted out in theatrical extras, there are also a number that are intentionally minimal just featuring a few choice objects with quotes painted on the walls that help mark a particular era or event.
Rather than just a straight-forward renovation, either transforming rooms into great exhibition spaces for visitors or making sure the rooms look as they did when inhabited by former monarchs, they have added another facet to the Palace experience. By working with theatre-makers Coney, they have transformed the State Apartments using installations, sound affects and objects to reveal the secret lives of some of our most interesting monarchs. The use of shadows, paper cut-outs and artifacts ,particularly on the impressive stairways, definitely created a mood and drama, one that would be most appealing to children who quickly tire in surroundings that lack interaction and opportunities to touch. What is obvious about the choices they have made when it comes to restoration is that not only did they want to give it a modern edge, but they clearly had an aim to encourage families to come – aided by their kids go free initiative. When successful in luring them to the Palace they also wanted to ensure there were plenty of objects and activities for children to enjoy. The lack of written information about the history and artifacts may be a negative for those who make such visits to educate themselves and absorb as much information as possible. The modern and quirky additions also may act as a slight repellant for traditionalists who just want to see the palace exist as it was previously intended. Whatever the majority opinion ends up being in regards to the modern touches, there can be no arguments when it comes to the quality of the work completed, and the vast improvement on its previous standing.
With the Olympics imminent I am often considering how our great capital will be perceived by international visitors and those watching via television and internet streams across the globe . The major works on the project began in june of 2012 and have been completed in time for the Queens Diamond Jubilee ( as well as the Olympics). With it’s thoughtful additions, up to date facilities and its incredible new landscaping and gardens this is now another wonderful Historic Royal Palace to be proud of, and another great advert for the city of London.