It’s likely the most recognizable royal residence in the world.
The site of Buckingham Palace in London has been a royal residence since 1761, when George III bought Buckingham House for his wife, Queen Caroline. It was architect John Nash who transformed the building into more of what we know today, creating a three-winged building with the Marble Arch in front of it (the arch was later moved to Hyde Park). Victoria was the first monarch to live in the palace, moving in in 1837, and it was during her early reign that a fourth wing was added, especially to provide more bedrooms and a nursery. The fourth wing created the quadrangle design.
The palace has experienced some significant changes over the years. In 1911, the forecourt was added (where the changing of the Guard takes place) as part of the plan for the Victoria Memorial statue. The gates and railings were also added at this time. In 1913, the palace was refaced – the stone was deteriorating because of air pollution. During World War II, a German plane flew right up The Mall and bombed part of the palace – in the area where the Queen’s Art Gallery and the palace gift shop are today on Buckingham Gate.
Today, the palace has 775 rooms, including 19 State Rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms.
In 2018, the palace’s state rooms are open for public touring from July 21 to September 30, roughly corresponding to when the Queen is staying at Balmoral in Scotland and Windsor Castle.
I’ve taken the tour of the State Rooms twice, in 2012 and 2015. I bought our tickets online once we were in London and chose the day and time (tickets are timed). The tour entrance is on Buckingham Gate, and friendly (and usually caped) attendants guide you where you need to go. The tour starts with a security check, and then you walk through a part of the interior courtyard to the main interior entrance. You’re given a headset and tape in the language of choice, and you follow it through the tour.
The tour ends at the ground level on the terrace facing the back lawn and gardens. There is a refreshment tent where you can buy tea, coffee, water, and soft drinks, as well as cakes and other sweets. (We were ready for a piece of sponge cake and tea by the end of the tour.) There’s a restroom pavilion nearby, and then a large gift shop (one last opportunity for tourists to spend). To exit the grounds, you follow the graveled walk and exit on to Grosvenor Place, a busy street on the west side of the palace complex. Walk north to Hyde Park, west to Knightsbridge, or south toward Victoria Station.
A considerable portion of Dancing King is set in Buckingham Palace, including two crucial and related scenes, one in the Green Room (one of the State Rooms), where Michael Kent-Hughes will meet with protestors, and the other by the Victoria Memorial in front of the palace.
Michael and his wife Sarah find the palace generally sound (Michael’s childhood friend Tommy McFarland, will lead a team of architects and building experts to determine the condition of the various royal properties). A number of internal systems – heating, kitchen appliances, and basic systems – will need to be replaced or repaired. The chief gardener, Richard Brightwell, will be directed to begin a major renovation of the gardens. The art gallery will be renovated and plans made for an exhibition. The staff will begin planning to reopen the palace for summer tours.
Michael and Sarah, overwhelmed by the size of the palace and trying to figure out how to call it “home,” will have a space on the upper floor of one of the wings renovated for the entire family, resembling their home in San Francisco.
The desire for their own “home” within the palace is an indication of how different this royal family is from all of its predecessors. Michael was not raised in class privilege; Iris and Ian McLaren worked as a garden designer and horse veterinarian, respectively. He attended regular schools in Edinburgh rather than a school like Harrow or Eton. He has no “old boys” relationship with the aristocracy, and no military background like so many royals before him. Where his friendships in Britain will develop will be more with professional and business people.
And what most sets him off from his predecessors is that no previous monarch was first a priest.
Top photograph: Buckingham Palace, September 2017. Middle photograph: the rear of the palace, with the tented refreshment area. Bottom photograph: the gates on the right side of the palace; it is through these gates that Michael walks to join the crowds in front.