I was lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the newly refurbished Kensington Palace, ahead of its opening on Monday.
The entrance to the Palace has been transformed. You now enter the building through a new light green loggia, inscribed with the details of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and into a new Entrance Hub decorated with a light sculpture called Luminous Lace.
From here, you can choose to explore the Palace through four different routes, each signposted through different colours and pointers:
- Victoria Revealed - 10 lavishly decorated rooms tell the story of Queen Victoria’s life, in her own words from letters and diaries, from her birth in the Palace, through her childhood, ascension, marriage, periods of mourning and her own Diamond Jubilee
- The King’s Apartments - grand, imposing architecture telling the stories of the courts of William and Mary, George I and George II in the 17th and 18th centuries
- The Queen’s Apartments - more intimate rooms, lifting the curtain on the private lives of Mary II and Anne and the decline of the Stuart dynasty
- Diana: Glimpses of a Modern Princess - a selection of five dresses work by Diana Princess of Wales at different points in her life
The section on Diana is small, but very beautifully put together. It’s fascinating to see her dresses next to photos of her wearing them, and drawings from the sketchbooks of the designers. It’s also nice to see how Diana’s style changed, from the black, strapless evening gown by Emanuel (which has never been on display before) to a shocking pink Catherine Walker dress.
Victoria Revealed is a fantastic new permanent exhibition. Told through Victoria’s letters, diaries and other writings, the rooms and objects on display paint a wonderful picture of this endlessly interesting monarch. You can see her first pair of black silk booties, her wedding dress made of Spitalfields silk and her oldest surviving mourning dress. As well as traditional portraits and objects in display cases, Victoria Revealed has a quirkier, inventive side. Mirrors are engraved with snippets from Victoria’s diaries; text appears woven into carpet, scrawled on desks, and doodled into walls. With inventive lighting, soundscapes and some gorgeous modern installations, the result is personal, creative, feeling-based storytelling, rather than a fact-heavy, traditional museum. I loved it.
I spent less time in the Kings and Queens Apartments, but am determined to go back. Fully restored, these two sections of the Palace have been taken over by theatre-makers Coney, with a series of exciting and playful installations. In the Queen’s Apartments, I saw cabinets of love letters, ships in bottles, and magnificent trees, all telling the stories of the different monarchs who’ve lived in these rooms. In the King’s Apartments, you can see rare court dress from the 18th century, and learn about the mix of celebrity, fashion, politics and treachery that defined life in the King’s court during this era.
As well as the new entrance, there’s a lovely new shop and café, and beautiful new landscaped public gardens to explore. All these wonderful developments have really improved the Palace putting it firmly back on my list of must-see attractions in London.