With this summer marking 60 years since the Queen’s coronation, where better for a keen royal watcher to visit than the coronation exhibition currently open at Buckingham Palace.
Although Buckingham Palace has almost 800 rooms, it is only the 19 State Rooms which are open to the public during the summer each year.
Although I’ve visited the palace several times and seen the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen designed wedding dress in 2011 and the Diamond Jubilee inspired exhibition last year showing some of the diamond jewellery in the Queen’s collection.
The coronation theme began in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace, one of the first rooms on the tour. This is where the iconic official portraits were taken of the Queen and the Royal Family on coronation day.
The room shows some of Cecil Beaton’s photographs taken on the day and film showing how difficult it was to arrange the Royal Family for the photos, including the boisterous four-year-old Prince Charles and two-year-old Princess Anne.
The real highlight of the visit was the Ballroom, where the main coronation themed display is on show. The room is dominated by the Queen’s coronation dress in the centre of the room.
Although famous through television and photographs, nothing prepares you for the size of it (despite being a mother of two in 1953, the Queen had a very small waist) and the way in which all of the coloured embroidery glistens in the light.
In it, you can see the roses for England, thistles for Scotland, leeks for Wales and shamrocks for Ireland (including one four leaf clover for luck).
You can also see the outfits worn by the Royal children, the naval uniform worn by the Duke of Edinburgh on the day as well as his, rather battered, coronet and the outfits worn by the late Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent (Princess Marina, the current Duke’s mother).
Of particular note is the halo tiara worn by Princess Margaret on the day and later worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on her wedding day – and which prompted the Queen’s verdict of “horrid” for the way in which it was displayed.
The ticket I bought also included admission to the Queen’s Gallery, where an exhibition about fashion in the Tudor and Stuart periods and the Royal Mews.
In the Royal Mews, you can see the coaches used in the carriage processions each year for the State Opening of Parliament and Trooping the Colour as well as the State limousines used by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, the highlight of the display is the Gold State Coach used by each monarch at his or her coronation since George IV in 1821.
Although appearing to be solid metal, the coach is actually of wooden construction decorated with layers of gold leaf and hand painted mythical scenes.
It is truly breathtaking to look at but is said to be extremely uncomfortable to ride in – it has only been used three times during the Queen’s reign – for her coronation, the Silver Jubilee in 1977 and the Golden Jubilee in 2002. For last year’s Diamond Jubilee, the 86 year old Queen decided to travel by car instead.
Also open again this year is Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and best known as the Queen Mother’s London residence from 1953 to 2002.
The Queen Mother’s influence is everywhere from the artwork (portraits of her parents and her daughters) to the books (signed first editions by her jockey turned thriller writer Dick Francis).
In contrast to Buckingham Palace, this is a true home and it’s easy to see why Prince Philip was reluctant to leave it to move to the Palace when the Queen came to the throne (they lived there in the early years of their marriage).
With the books scattered round and photographs of the family (including a signed photograph of the King and Queen of Norway signed simply ‘Harald’ and ‘Sonja’, you could almost imagine the Prince and Duchess relaxing in their slippers and dressing gowns.
It was a hectic and busy day to fit all of this in but well worth it – I’d certainly recommend it to anyone with even a casual interest in the Royal Family.
The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open until Sunday 29 September, tickets cost £19 for an adult (concessions are available). A Royal Day Out ticket (including admission to the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews) costs £33.25 for an adult. All prices include an audio guided tour.
Clarence House is open until Saturday 1 September. Admission is £9 for an adult (concessions available) – price includes a guided tour.