Clarence House was amazing. I had always wanted to see it because the Queen Mother lived there, and once, over twenty years ago, when I took my courage in both hands and wrote to her to ask she send a letter to my Grandpa on his 88th birthday – even though she only normally wrote to people when they were a hundred years old – she wrote back to him on Clarence House headed notepaper. It was probably the best birthday present he ever had. I had seen the outside of Clarence House of course, but never the inside. This is because it is now the official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and also to Princes William and Harry. But this year the reception rooms were open to the public and I decided it would be a very good idea to go along. I rarely put things off anymore, because someday very rarely ever arrives.
So we found ourselves in the gardens of Clarence House on this sunny Saturday afternoon. The entries are timed, and you go through with two guides, but each group only has about twenty people in it, so it is very intimate. It also struck me as we walked through the elegant but simply designed gardens, that this was very much a home. Of course the residents were not visible, but it is clear that there were definitely people living upstairs. In fact, it turned out that Prince Charles was due to return that evening, and when asked what happened when he did arrive, the guide said simply, “Well, we have to stop where we are and he slips in a back door privately.” So there was very much a feeling of being in someone’s garden at that point, and indeed in someone’s home later on. As we walked through the very sensitively redecorated rooms (our guide explained that the corgis had been allowed the run of the house and some restoration was necessary when Prince Charles moved in after the Queen Mother’s death), there were no red ropes to hold us back, only plain carpeting over the priceless antique rugs. This was, our guide explained, not just for the protection of the rugs, but also for our own protection as well because apparently some of the antique rugs actually have holes in them and they didn’t want any injured tourists! We were very politely requested to keep to the plain carpeting and not step on to the antique rugs, but as they plain carpet covered pretty much the entirety of nearly all of the rooms we were in, our access was not restricted in any way whatsoever. At one point I was literally inches from a Monet. What a privilege to be able to go through someone’s home like that!
Clarence House is beautiful, there is no other word for it, but it is also very welcoming and intimate. Aside from its grandeur and the antiques and art works contained therein, it seems very home like. It is, unlike many other stately homes I have visited, very much alive. And it is very, very beautiful. So much thought has been put into the decoration. For example, the dining room has been decorated virtually around a painting of the Queen Mother, using colours from the canvas and bringing it almost to life. And the blues they have used are so wonderful – particularly in the one room which was left virtually unchanged from when the Queen Mother lived there, except to restore the damage done to it by her beloved dogs. There are family photographs everywhere, not just of people you would recognise, but also of those who seem to be virtually unknown. It is, in short, someone’s home. I cannot say that I would have been so generous in sharing it if I lived there, that is for sure (particularly in view of the Monet)! But I am very grateful its current residents were so much less selfish than I would be! It is lovely and well worth seeing. I believe it is only open in September this year, but should it be open again, I highly recommend a visit.
After a very pleasant hour exploring Clarence House and its beautiful gardens (which incidentally produce over 95 kilos of vegetables for their table every year), we set off to do some shopping. We headed for Harrods as it is such a fun store to explore, and also because we are looking for some items of furniture and technology and it has to be the best place to look for things like that. They have everything – and if they don’t have it, they will get it for you. After about three hours of exploring we left with our heads full of ideas, and both Guy and I had a shopping bag! Guy had got a new laptop bag, and I had finally found a pair of knee high black boots that I not only liked, but that fit me. Unfortunately running has given me what might be described as “substantial” calves, making it difficult to find knee high boots that are comfortable, but at Harrods I found the perfect pair.
All this shopping had made us hungry so after a brief stop at Russell and Bromley to get Guy a new pair of black shoes, we headed back to Regent Street to our favourite restaurant. Piccolino is in Heddon Street, just up from Piccadilly Circus off Regent Street. It is a wonderful Italian restaurant with amazing food and fabulous service, and we had a lovely meal there. My Escalope Milanese was just delicious and my Pear and Fig Tarte with Amaretto Ice Cream was worth every single calorie!
It’s been a wonderful day, spent in great company. I’m very grateful.