Kensington Palace, nestled within the borders of London’s Hyde Park, started out as a simple stately home back in the 1600’s before its grand extension. But it’s the long line of royal women who have been residing here for centuries who have helped to shape its lasting glory and modern day popularity.
It was Queen Mary (the first royal resident alongside her husband King William) who ordered the renovations in 1689, adding extra galleries and the famous Queen’s Apartments. It was to be completed quickly and at a low cost, leaving Kensington Palace with the subtly which still stands today.
Centuries aside, your journey here will begin with the Palace’s most famous and loved personality, Diana Princess of Wales. Her radiant portrait dominates the first gallery you enter – these being the grounds where she spent her time as a doting mother and passionate humanitarian, throwing charitable gatherings in the State Apartments.
It’s how people always remember her here, yet the smile hides the entrapment of an unhappy marriage – Kensington Palace being her first and only marital home with Prince Charles in 1981, up until her death in 1997.
A large part of Kensington Palace stands in tribute to her, her many dresses displayed in a permanent exhibition alongside those of the Queen (which are somewhat overshadowed). Our blue badge guide, Alison from City Wonders, even takes us to the iconic golden gates where its said over a million bouquets were left after Diana’s death – an iconic image in British history.
On the wall opposite is an image of Prince William and Kate Middleton holding baby George – the newest residents and most favoured of the modern royals. While William is returning to his childhood home, Kate is certainly making her mark on Kensington Palace and its homely reputation. Next to that hangs a stunning black and white photograph of Princess Margaret, the glamorous socialite whose time here was defined by extravagant parties with high-profile musicians and other famous faces.
From modern acquaintances to the most revered former residents of old, Alison walks us through the history of Queen Victoria who was born here, became Queen at the age of 18 and ruled with great sovereignty from this hold until her death in 1901. The rooms detail her journey from lonely childhood to devoted wife and mother, and ending with the profound black and white images of the grief which completely consumed her for 27 years following he death of her husband Albert.
While the King’s State Apartments and the Queen’s State Apartments are open to the public, parts of which have been turned into artistic exhibition space, you won’t have any chance of catching a glimpse of modern day royal life here. For some, this may be a little disappointing in their exploration of regal London, this Palace being just as ‘closed’ and limited as others.
Tucked away behind a wall and beyond the pretty facade is where the young generation of royals including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Zara Philips reside – so hidden that you won’t even be close enough to snatch a quick wave from them through a window.
Kensington Palace gives a glimpse into some of Britain’s most revered and iconic royal women, from powerful rulers to fashion icons. The rooms, untouched in their splendid layouts or aided by quirky educational visuals, bring periods of history close enough to visualise. Just don’t expect to meet Kate Middleton and the future Kings of England anytime soon. A guide can’t even pull that miracle off, no matter how many clever questions you ask.
I was a guest of City Wonders on their Kensington Palace day tour, which ends with a delicious Afternoon Tea at the Baglioni Hotel (so you can feel a little royal). All opinions remain my own, including my own desire to be able to wave at William and Kate through their window like I know them.