But have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk up the grand staircase inside Buckingham Palace, or stroll through the gardens where the Queen’s famous annual garden bash is held?
In short, it’s pretty surreal. Even more so when you realise you’re walking through the halls of an actual ‘family home’, a fully-functioning royal palace. Not a historical museum.
I recently had the opportunity to find out how it feels to step through the palace gates, while on a tour of Buckingham Palace in London.
The royal residence of Queen Elizabeth II is opened to the public for two short months each year, while her Majesty spends her summer holiday at Balmoral. And after booking a time slot online and collecting the tickets on the day, you are ushered in through the same entrance used by those coming to officially meet with the Queen, such as dignitaries and prime ministers.
The Grand Staircase
One of the first big wow moments was walking into the welcoming hall and then up the grand staircase. It was a real Princess Diaries moment, stepping along the plush red carpet and up the huge marble stairs surrounded by gold trimmings and paintings.
You couldn’t really do it properly without the having one hand placed regally on the banister, taking slow, considered steps, while looking around and waving at adoring onlookers. Translate that to an awkward moment locking eyes with a complete stranger, but you get the general idea.
The Throne room
The ball room was also stunning, but the huge throne room was the pièce de résistance.
You might well recognise it as the backdrop to a host of wedding portraits, just like this one of Prince William and Kate Middleton taken after their wedding in 2011.
The walls are draped in red, with gold trimmings and an intricate design on the roof. The ‘throne’ itself is up three steps, a plush seat with the Queen’s initials embroidered into the material.
Of course, as the monarch changes, so do much of these small design elements. It was Queen Victoria who actually made some of the biggest changes to the 300-year-old palace during her reign, including adding the famous front facade to create room for her growing family.
The Queen’s ‘secret door’
A sneak peek inside Buckingham Palace wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse of one of the many secret doors and passages used by the Queen as well as her staff.
One of the more intimate State Rooms at the palace, the White Drawing Room, is regularly used for audiences and small gatherings. It’s also the setting for the Queen’s annual Christmas message.
The Queen generally enters the room via a hidden door disguised as a mirror and cabinet before receiving guests. When looking at the wall it’s the left mirror, next to the fire place.
The room has also been the backdrop for many royal portraits, including this sweet snap of four generations featuring the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George.
The Buckingham Palace gardens
Surrounded by high brick walls and barbed wire, the palace gardens are also generally off limits to the public. The only glimpse we get is generally when the Queen holds her yearly garden party.
The tour of the palace ends in the gardens. Walking down the same sandstone steps as the Queen does before greeting all her guests was another surreal experience.
Looking out over the immaculately manicured lawn you could almost picture the crowds and the hustle and bustle of the famous event.
The tour concludes with a five to 10 minute stroll through the gardens, before you exit the grounds from a heavily guarded side entrance, reminding you once again that you are a mere visitor - an onlooker of royal life.
Because of the grandeur of it all, it was difficult to picture what it must have been like for Prince Harry and William, for example, growing up and getting to run around their grandma’s house freely. Without the limitations of red velvet ropes and security and ushers at every corner of the room.
But getting even a glimpse of what it’s like behind those gilded doors has definitely satisfied some of my cravings for royal insight.
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