“It’s horrid, isn’t it? Horrible!” This was reportedly the Queen’s reaction, caught on camera, to seeing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress on display, as she and the Duchess of Cambridge took a private tour Friday of Buckingham Palace’s Summer Opening.
An inauspicious start for the annual exhibition which is expected to draw 643,000 visitors, a full 107 percent increase in ticket sales from last year. Luckily for the exhibit organizers, visitors touring the palace today, the first day open to the public, had the opposite of The Queen’s reaction upon seeing the gilded rooms and wedding dress: marvel, awe, and delight.Nearly three months later, it’s clear that royal wedding fever is still raging, and that Kate Middleton, who is said to have been involved in the decision to display the dress, is the main draw. Huge posters advertising the exhibition of Kate on her wedding day are displayed on the Palace Gates and in subway stations throughout London. The Palace certainly isn’t afraid to cash in on its newest member, and with good reason.
Though she’s been touted as a normal English girl, a glance at the crowd Saturday proves that Duchess Catherine has international appeal. Visitors hailed from India, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan, and of course, the United States.
Ron Morgan, 56, from Temecula, Calif., said his interest in the royal family pre-dates the current royal bride.
“My wife actually met Princess Diana when she was alive, so then we went to Allthorp and we met Charles Spencer, her brother, yesterday. And when we came to the UK we didn’t know the dress was going to be on display, and we just got tickets.” Getting tickets, of course, is just half the battle: with long lines, large crowds, and a security checkpoint that rivals that of Heathrow Airport, catching a glimpse of Kate’s wedding dress is not for the faint of heart.
Tickets are issued for specific times, and visitors are prohibited to line up more than 15 minutes before their allotted time, in a somewhat fruitless attempt at keeping the line snaking around the palace gates to a reasonable length. Once inside the gates, there’s another long wait for the security check point, in white tents decorated with pictures of Queen Elizabeth smilingly performing various royal duties. Uniformed Palace officials walk around the increasingly dense crowd, instructing everyone to empty the entire contents of their pockets, turn off cellphones, put away cameras, and check-in large bags. “Will it be calmer once we get inside?” one British woman asked a security guard as he checked her bag.
“I hope so!” was the optimistic reply.Luckily, past the frantic security point, it is calmer. Smiling attendants hand out the mandatory audio guides, and gently usher visitors indoors. It’s a pity no photography is allowed inside the palace: from nearly the first few steps inside, the 775 room Palace is stunning, and the impulse to take a photograph of the quadrangle, one of the first sights of the tour, is nearly overwhelming. As guests walk down the windowed galleries, the Prince of Wales himself comes on the audio tour with a welcome message.
In the graveled courtyard, which is roped off, the tire track of two separate cars are visible: one can’t help but wonder if the tracks were made by cars whisking The Queen and Catherine away after their private tour.
“Good heavens, no! Nobody can afford these things nowadays!” was the Queen’s immediate reply, according to reports.Entrancing as the Royal Faberge collection is, it’s clear that the exhibit organizers saved the best for (nearly) last.
The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress is displayed in the very center of the Buckingham Palace ballroom, elevated on a platform and encased in a display of black netting. The Queen may have found the effect eerie on her visit yesterday, but guests at today’s opening were clearly unperturbed by the choice of display: one little girl literally jumped up and down upon seeing it. Surrounding the dress is a video of its designer, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, explaining the intricate techniques used to construct it. Many visitors stopped in a side room, where a large screen showed highlights of the Royal Wedding. The Duchesses’ shoes, earrings, and 1936 Cartier tiara (lent to her by the Queen) were also on display. In the State Dining Room, the Wedding Cake is on display, with the ceremonial first cut made by the Duke and Duchess still visible.
The audio tour wraps up quickly after that: a quick walk through The Marble Hall and out into the garden, where visitors who want to say they’ve been to tea at Buckingham Palace can stop for a cuppa at The Garden Cafe. Ice Cream made from the Royal Dairy is also on sale, served in official Buckingham Ice Cream containers.Finally, the exit is (naturally) through the gift shop, where every possible variation of Royal knick-knack is enticingly displayed: keychains, tea sets, Christmas ornaments, pens, and faux tiaras. For the Royal Wedding enthusiast, there are postcards of the happy couple kissing on the balcony of the Palace, official plates, tea towels, coffee mugs, and even shot glasses emblazoned with the initials “C&W.” (The “C” for Catherine curiously is always written before the “W”, perhaps as “WC” in the UK is the symbol for bathroom.) True Middleton fans can even purchase a replica of Kate’s sapphire engagement ring, one size fits all for 35 pounds.
As guests walked the winding pathway through the Palace Gardens and out to Grosvenor Place, laden with gift bags and full of Buckingham Palace tea, even the most ardent royalist was satisfied.“I just thought it was cool thinking of who walked through the rooms.” Said Lyndsay Hilde, 20, from southern California. “They mentioned the hidden doorway and I wondered if Prince William ever crossed through there.” Prince William, Duchess Catherine, and soon over half a million of their most devoted fans.The Summer Opening Of The State Rooms Exhibition is open through Oct. 3.