We shine the spotlight on the most splendid of all the Queen’s homes, which opens up to the public every summer
The elegant white facade of Buckingham Palace, home to the famous balcony overlooking the Mall, is one of the world’s most recognisable sights. It’s likely, when you think of the palace, that you picture that view: the Royal Family a splash of colour against the pale backdrop, waving from the balcony at moments of national celebration or commemoration. Though one of the palace’s most distinctive features, the balcony is a later addition by the architect Edward Blore, at the suggestion of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.
Today, Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Her Majesty the Queen. The palace’s 19 state rooms, used for ceremonial occasions and official entertaining – and open to visitors for ten weeks in the summer – occupy two floors in the western wing facing the gardens, while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh live in private apartments on the north side of the building.
The palace is also home to other members of the Royal Family as well as the base for some 800 staff, including a flagman, a fendersmith and a clockmaker, who, no doubt, is kept busy by the palace’s 350 clocks and watches.
It is at the gates of Buckingham Palace that the British people gather at times of national importance – witness the Royal Family beaming from the balcony with Winston Churchill in footage from the end of the Second World War. The palace didn’t come through the Blitz unscathed – it was hit in 1940 while the king and queen were in residence. “I’m glad we’ve been bombed,” the late Queen Mother said. “Now I can look the East End in the face.”
While our countryside-loving Queen has always felt most at home with her horses and dogs at Balmoral, the link to her official residence in the capital is a strong one; three of her four children were born at Buckingham Palace.
Each summer, the palace opens its doors to visitors, who can explore the magnificent state rooms, including the Throne Room, used by the Queen for official entertaining, and also chosen as the setting for the wedding pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday this year is to be marked at the Summer Opening with an exhibition of more than 100 works of art selected by His Royal Highness, entitled Prince and Patron. Of the exhibition, the Prince says: “I have always been captivated by the astonishing range of fascinating things in the Royal Collection that have been collected or commissioned by my ancestors over the generations.” Like the palace itself, the exhibition promises to pay homage both to the stories of the past and the tastes of the present.
This is an edited version of an article in the July/August issue of BRITAIN, on sale here