Visiting Buckingham Palace

The Queen is away enjoying the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and sneaking into an athlete’s selfie. She was in london on Wednesday, that I know, because I took a group to the guard change and the royal standard was flying above Buckingham Palace.

The guard change is something that never fails to delight. Maybe it’s something to do with AA Milne.

Guard Change
Guard Change

But today we Blue Badge Guides were allowed into Buckingham Palace for the preview of the annual opening. And we were allowed to take a guest. This invitation comes every yaer, but it is a while since I have been able to attend.

You tour the state rooms with a competent acousti guide and there is always a special exhibition. Photography is not allowed. My favourite exhibition was of the Queen’s dresses. You saw how ridiculously slender she was when she ascended to the throne, and there is a certain comfort in realising that even monarchs lose their waistlines as they age.

This year the exhibition is about Royal Childhood. We see that Harry wore a guardsman’s dressing gown when he was in single figures. It is obviously well loved and well washed. Princess Anne as a determined toddler battles with her tricycle at the edge of a recalcitrant lawn. No surprise to find that one book that has survived from ERII’s childhood library is Black Beauty.

But for this Blue Badge Guide, it was the pictures of the Queen, now 88, that made the greatest impression. Her life from toddler at Windsor Castle holding hands with her mother and Queen Mary, who she increasingly resembles; carefree little girl literally bouncing on a see saw; a Girl Guide on the cusp of womanhood; young mother playing with her infant son. All these scenes are documented. You see her parents delighting in their grandchildren. It is an amazing archive. I should love to know what the younger members of family think when they see these images. Dogs, and to a slightly lesser extent horses, abound in these family photos. Wherever the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are, and whatever they are doing, at least one Corgi is on hand, or maybe that should be paw, to complete the scene.

You can still see that little girl in the Queen sometimes. But she takes her position seriously and seems to have schooled her features into an impassive frown. This is an exhibition that humanises her, and brings home how much has to be sacrificed when you live your life in the public eye and dedicate it to duty.

I think it’s a good visit. My friend was awestruck by the ceilings. My favourite room remains the music room, and I now want to go on the garden tour. It pelted down with rain as we prepared to leave. The shop does some very nice umbrellas.

The lawn was enjoyed by geese and coots, but just before I left I spotted a heron on the lake.

Not a bad address in SW1.

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