Visiting Buckingham Palace

by Carmen Allan-Petale

Buckingham Palace. Never a better time to visit it than this year – it is the Diamond Jubilee after all. As if to prove its popularity, entrance to the palace is staggered but even so there was still a considerable wait to get through security. And if you’re chewing gum you can forget it; one must rid of any food in one’s mouth so as not to get anything sticky on one’s golden ornaments.

It’s a beautiful palace and the largest of its kind open to the public that’s still in use. Although not the Queen’s official residence (that’s Windsor Castle) she does stay there when she’s in London and you can tell when she’s in because the Royal Standard flies on the mast out front.

Not that you’d be able to find her if she was there – with 775 rooms and 78 bathrooms it’s a child’s hide-and-seek heaven. It’s very opulent – crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, red carpet stretches down the halls and on the tables sit gold-gilded vases that probably cost more than our house.

One of the many extravagant staircases in the palace. Copyright: British Monarchy

One of the more ridiculous pieces of furniture is the round table in the Blue Drawing Room. Originally made for Napoleon and known as the Table des Grands Capitaines, it took six years to carve a number of faces into the porcelain top. I guess with that much money you can run out of ideas to spend it on…

A prettier art collection, to my mind, is the Queen’s diamonds. To celebrate her Royal Jubilee, all Her Majesty’s diamonds are on display in a special exhibit. Some of the jewels are centuries old, proving that indeed, diamonds are forever. I must admit I’m like a magpie when it comes to all things shiny; I love a bit of sparkle. Some of the objects have been given to the Queen as gifts and others she inherited. A few pieces that stood out for me were a giant diamond-studded sword and the Queen’s famous Coronation necklace, which she wore during this year’s diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The crowd waiting to get into the room of diamonds. Photos were strictly forbidden but there were so many people jammed together the ushers didn’t see me take this sneaky one.

Unfortunately, the diamonds seem to have attracted every woman over the age of 65 to the palace like Gollum’s knobbly hands to The One Ring. Approaching the jewels, which were housed in a room covered in black velvet-covered walls, my girlfriends and I got stuck in a mosh pit; only rather than teenage boys spilling their beer over me I had grannies bashing me in the shins with their wheel chairs.

The ushers insisted they had to stagger the entrance into the room of jewels for health and safety reasons. As one loud Australian woman pointed out next to me, ‘I thought cramming people in on top of each with no nearby fire exit would be a health and safety hazard as it is.’ I had to agree.

When we finally exited the palace it was almost a relief to get away from the stifling crowd and into the crisp autumn air. As my friends and I strolled about 1km through the Queen’s gardens to the exit, you had to imagine what it’d be like to be born into such a world where you never have to concern yourself with paying a heating bill, cooking dinner or doing your own grocery shopping.

Me with my friend Dom outside the back end of the palace, inside the Queen’s gardens

But then again, as Kate Middleton has surely learnt by now, the world watches your every move when you become a Royal. And that’s something I don’t think I could ever live with, no matter how many golden vases there were on my table.

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