First peek of renovated room behind Buckingham Palace balcony


Image source, Royal Collection Trust

First peek of room behind Buckingham Palace’s famous balcony

Instead of that famous view looking up at the Buckingham Palace balcony, visitors for the first time will be able to look down from the inside.

After five years of renovations, the east wing of the palace has been carefully restored and on a trial basis is open to paying customers from next week.

But they won’t be able to step out on to the balcony itself – and when you visit you can see why.

It’s surprisingly narrow and the railings are below waist height, in a way that would send any health and safety officers into a royal panic.

  • Author, Sean Coughlan
  • Role, Royal correspondent
Video caption, Take a look behind Buckingham Palace’s famous balcony

But looking through the windows – and what royal author Robert Hardman has called “the most famous net curtains in the world” – you can see the view from the perspective of the King and Queen, Prince William and Catherine.

What’s surprising from this vantage point is how clearly you can see the crowds of tourists below, you can really see people’s faces.

There’s also the curiosity of the change of perspective – looking out across the pink gravel of the courtyard and towards the Mall, rather than the usual view from outside the gates looking in.

To get to the balcony the royals go through the Centre Room, elaborately decorated in a Chinese style, and now open to the public for the first time since this wing was built 175 years ago.

A huge lamp fitting hangs down, decorated in the style of a lily, and the walls are covered in Chinese-themed art.

Image source, Royal Collection Trust

Image caption, Beyond the net curtains is the famous balcony where members of the Royal Family gather during major ceremonial events

The royal world loves its acronyms. So Buckingham Palace is “BP” and Kensington Palace is “KP” – but this enthusiasm for Chinese and oriental art is connected to another BP.

That’s the Brighton Pavilion, because building the east wing of Buckingham Palace was funded by Queen Victoria selling off the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

That seaside retreat was a fusion of Asian styles and racy regency fashions and, always keen on recycling, the 19th Century royals removed the Chinese and Japanese-themed furniture and art and put it into Buckingham Palace.

That included the fixtures and fittings, such as doors, gilded curtain poles and a fireplace, as well as ornamental porcelain pagodas.

Image caption, The renovation meant removing and restoring 3,500 objects

The introduction of tours to this previously private section of the palace is part of a broader ambition to make royal residences more open to the public.

The east wing, getting its first tourists, is the main facade of the palace, where tourists gather outside to watch Changing of the Guard – it’s the view you see on the postcards.

It’s not cheap to look round, costing £75, but has already completely sold out for this year. And this summer’s inaugural visitors will be in guided groups of 20, separate to the existing more general tour of the palace’s state rooms.

In this more intimate version of the tour, none of the items on show are roped off from visitors. The furniture doesn’t have ‘keep off’ signs.

It makes it feel more like a living building rather than a museum, but there’s no escaping the gradual gift-shopification of the palace.

It’s a mix of an historic setting for grand events, an office block and a tourist attraction, but at the moment it still seems a way off from being where any of the royals are likely to live.

Visiting royals don’t stay here either any more. During their recent state visit the Emperor and Empress of Japan stayed in Claridge’s Hotel.

Image source, Royal Collection Trust

Image caption, The Yellow Drawing Room will be on public view for the first time

There is an ongoing £369m project to renovate the palace complex, not just the gilded surfaces, but the basics of the plumbing and wiring on what is a huge set of ageing buildings. Once you step away from the glitzy state rooms you never seem far from scaffolding and repair works.

Renovating the east wing alone meant removing and conserving 3,500 separate items, including historic furniture and works of art. And the tour only includes only a relatively small part of that wing.

But the sell-out tours show the public demand and while there will be art lovers among the visitors, people will also be coming to see for themselves something they might have watched on television or imagined through the Crown.

They can stand in the elegant Yellow Drawing room, used for many audiences and the setting of a Christmas broadcast by the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Image caption, The East Wing was added at the front of Buckingham Palace between 1847 and 1849 to accommodate Queen Victoria’s growing family

Or visitors can look out the window at the quadrangle below, where Sir Keir Starmer pulled up last week when he went to meet the King after winning the general election.

There’s plenty of royal bling on show in the long corridors, but it’s the sense of seeing behind the scenes in the palace that will draw people.

And when they look out through the long balcony windows, they might resist the temptation to give a little wave.

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