Monday, August 04, 2008

Drinking Champagne at Buckingham Palace

On Friday last week, Alex and I headed off to London to meet Guy for our “private” tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. The private tours are taken after hours, when the State Rooms have been closed to the public. A group of not more than thirty is taken through the State Rooms on a leisurely tour with a private guide. Our tour was scheduled for 5.15pm, so we decided to head into London in the early afternoon.

Our day was quite good fun to start with as we had an experience of what it must be like to be followed by the paparazzi. I don’t know who this particular photographer thought Alex was, but as we walked down Regent Street, he began to follow us with his great big press camera. We assumed he was following someone else and it was so crowded we hardly paid any attention – until he leapt out square in front of Alex and took a photograph of him – just like that! The flash was absolutely blinding and I immediately reached for my purse, thinking it might be a pickpocket ploy. But when I got a proper look at the camera it was clear this chap was paparazzi. He then vanished through the crowd, running off as though he thought he might be pursued. We are still wondering who he thought Alex was. I wonder when he realised he’d got the wrong chap!!

We went for a coffee after that to steady my nerves as I was quite shocked by the whole experience, as I have to say was Alex, although we did laugh about it afterwards! Not long after that it was time to meet Guy and we all headed off to the Palace.

If you get off the tube (underground) at Green Park station, you can then take a lovely stroll across Green Park itself to the Palace. The tours start from the Ambassadors entrance, which is to the left of the palace if you are facing it with your back to The Mall. As tours had finished for the day, the gate was locked, but we were let in by a guide and allowed to sit in a reception area behind the gates. This caused some commotion outside as passers by began to wonder who the people were who were sitting inside the gates. It was quite funny watching them watching us!

Our tour set off right on schedule and it was wonderful. When Alex and I toured the State Rooms last year during the public tours, it was very crowded, and being fairly short I found it difficult to see through the crowds. This was an entirely different experience. With only thirty people, the guide was able to give us full access to everything, and we were able to really take in the splendour of these magnificent rooms. We were also able to hear really interesting anecdotes about life in the Palace through the years. The artwork was much easier to see as well and we were stunned by the magnificence of the collection on display. From Rembrandt’s paintings to fantastic sculptures, we were able to see everything at very close range indeed. The guide was really knowledgeable, friendly and happy to answer questions. When we reached the end of our tour, we were escorted into the Bow Room, where a footman handed us each a glass of champagne. We were then led out on to a balcony overlooking the gardens. It was just incredible. I could not believe I was drinking champagne in Buckingham Palace, in the room where the Queen Mother’s 100th Birthday celebrations were held.

After about a half hour, during which time we all chatted and admired the grounds and the back of the palace, we were escorted to the shop. And after that it was time to go home. However we were not going out through a back door. We were told we were going out through the very front gates of the palace. And sure enough, our guide led us out the doors of the palace entrance in small groups, through the red gravel courtyard (which we were told is raked daily!), and out under an arch just to the right of the balcony the Royal Family wave from on special occasions. I could hardly believe it when the guard saluted each us as we walked under the arch. The crowds behind the gates outside went mad, taking pictures of us, and pointing. I do wonder who they imagined we were! Walking towards the main gate at the side, I watched the crowds through the gate, and realised now how we must look to the Royal Family when we stand there. It was a perspective I never thought I would see and I was unbelievably thrilled by it. The police opened the gates for us, and half bowed to us as we passed by – again I don’t know who they thought we were. I could hardly believe it. I enjoyed every second of that walk, it was quite the most thrilling thing I think I have ever done. I felt really special, and it was a super way to top off the day when I drank champagne at Buckingham Palace for the very first time.

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