Life Abroad – Part 31: A glimpse of The Buckingham Palace
Posted on June 13th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

On August 6, 1993, the red carpet at Buckingham Palace rolled out to give access to the Royal abode for more than 400,000 visitors for the first time for a period of nearly two months up till October 1, 1993. Such a decision was taken by The Queen followed by the gutting of the “ƒ”¹…”Windsor Castle’ which was estimated at £40 million on restoration work and particularly followed by the public outcry when she expected British tax payers to foot the bill for the fire damage. The consequences of all such matters made her skirmish and to decide to open her London Home to make a licensed invasion for 400,000 or more commoners which finally seemed to have given £4.5 million gross.

Preparation

As the London Correspondent attached to The Island newspapers at the time, I took my position among 600 journalists from the world media at Ambassador’s Court on August 5 on the “ƒ”¹…”Palace Review Day’ for the press. After a long procedure of checking out credentials media personnel had to go through a strict security check. Next we climbed the grand entrance taking a breathtaking glimpse at ten portraits of Queen Victoria’s relatives which included William IV, George III and Queen Charlotte. The gilded balustrade had a Perspex covering to preserve it from finger prints of visitors. The Guard Room contained 19th Century statuary including Queen Victoria, a painting done in 1847.


Queen Elizabeth II

Rope cordons with brass fittings kept the visitors precisely to a defined route while some of the Queen’s valuable carpets had been rolled up to avoid damage from the exodus of the trudging peasantry.

The furniture at the Green Drawing Room included two French chests of drawers decorated with the late 18th Century marble (pietra dura) and a Sevres porcelain vase in the shape of a boat (1758) belonged to Madame de Pompadour which were used for the assembly of visitors before a state banquet.

The Throne Room used by the Queen to receive loyal addresses on formal occasions had one of the most exquisite ornamental ceilings inside the Palace illumined by seven early 19th Century glass and gilt bronze chandeliers. On the dais, under the canopy were the thrones of the Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip which were used during her Coronation ceremony at the Westminster Abbey in 1953. Along with these were other thrones used in earlier coronations.

The Picture Gallery, the largest room at Buckingham Palace contained a collection of important works by Van Dyck, Rubenas, Cuyp, Rembrandt and others.

The arranged route led from the Picture Gallery via Silk Tapestry Room to many galleries led to the State Dining room used for formal occasions was decorated with seven portraits of the Hanoverian dynasty of George IV, his parents, grandparents and great grandparents. 24 columns with sculptural reliefs of Shakespeare, Spencer and Milton by William Pitt at either end supported the brilliant Blue Drawing Room with four chandeliers.

The Music Room had been occasionally used for Royal family Christenings of Prince of Wales, Princess Royal, the Duke of York and Prince William of Wales. The White Drawing Room with a modelled and guides ceiling was supported by 28 pilasters used for the Royal family to assemble before state occasions.

Buckingham Palace, one of the most legendary buildings in the world resembles a small town with hundreds of staff with its own post office, police station, staff canteens and dining rooms. It has the capacity to serve up to 600 meals a day and the post office deals with over 100,000 items every year.

There is an army of secretaries, clerical staff, tradesmen, gardeners, butlers, and domestic staff; clock repairers wind and maintain the Palace’s 300 clocks.

The electric bulb that glows from the Queen’s chambers at night is an indicative that even she has to work at times till late hours attending to paperwork that pour in red and blue leather pouches containing official state papers for her signature.


Buckingham Palace

Approximately 600 rooms in the Palace are more or less in constant use with more than 200 domestic staff employed at Buckingham Palace while 30,000 guests arrive for royal functions annually.

Since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Royal collection comprised over 10,000 pictures, 20,000 drawings, 16,000 water colours, 500,000 prints and many thousand pieces of furniture, sculpture, glass, porcelain, arms and armour, textiles, silver, gold and jewellery including the crown jewels.

Immunity

The Queen’s immunity from taxation was under fire in the early part of 1993 and led to severe criticism and misdemeanour while the Crown earned a reputation of being “ƒ”¹…”dishonourable’ and the treasury “ƒ”¹…”unprofessional’. The monarch was transformed from taxpaying to tax free status since Edward Vii in 1901. As the queen’s savings from income tax of £7.3 million (£200,000 a day) became a hot potato she volunteered to pay taxes on her private income from 1993. This was regarded as a sledgehammer blow to her income and she had to “ƒ”¹…”cut her expensive coat according to her cloth’.

Gloomy year

The year 1993 was certainly a bad year for the Queen who completed 40 years of executing her responsibilities as the Queen of England and Head of the Commonwealth touring thousands of miles within England and abroad and shaking millions of hands without devising any special grip to protect her fingers. Out of all her past 40 years (up to 1993) she had not experienced many a nightmare before.

It was mentioned in the news at the time that “ƒ”¹…”at the age of 67 she suddenly turned grey overnight and smiles turned into a frown’ possibly because of the “ƒ”¹…”Annus Horribilis’ of royal scandals and disasters which were packed and delivered to her in a large bitter dose over a period of 12 months.

The young members of the Royal family at the time had not helped her much.

Breaking up of her son’s marriage (Duke of York and Sera Fergusson), Prince Edward joining the millions of the British unemployed and deliberating on Harley Davidson motor cycle rides in leather gear, Prince Phillips getting exposed in the newspaper headlines by asking a girl once whether “ƒ”¹…”she wore mink knickers’ and Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage saga seemed to have naturally affected her health rapidly.

With the opening of the Buckingham Palace door to 400,000 visitors charging £8 per head the Palace became an attraction as “ƒ”¹…”a biggest box office hit’ in the summer of 1993.

Naturally ardent monarchists camped at St. James’ Park to become part of the modern history between August 6 and October 1, 1993 while the cynics and the anti-royals wondered whether the tax man kept an eye on the red carpet that rolled at the Buckingham Palace.

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