Friday, 20 September 2013

Charity and Privilege

The Royal Charity

Today I went somewhere I've been longing to go for many, many years....Buckingham Palace. The State Rooms are open for visits over the summer months, until the end of September. I went alone - my family are not interested in the Palace or its inhabitants.

So along with several hundred other tourists, I entered the Staterooms. Impression?: Gold. Gold with blue, gold with white, gold with red. And carvings. Lots of carvings. The Royal families, or their architects, believe in embellishment. A roof? Carve it, with thistles or roses or shamrocks. Balustrades are carved, then gilded. Walls are either papered in damask (don't want plain wallpaper) or have carved details. The carvings are gilded.

The whole tour is done on audio headset so the crowd is completely silent, drifting like sleepwalkers through enormous rooms, and all you can hear is a faint hissing when someone has the sound turned up.

There's a special exhibition on at the moment of the 1953 Coronation of QE2. Not being alive at the time of this event, the photographs and film footage leaves me rather unmoved (the hushed voice of the commentator 'now, an event so old that even its origins are lost in the depths of time') but the coronation dresses, on display in the ballroom (which has its own pipe organ), are truly splendid - the hand embroidered dresses, the velvet-and-ermine trains and oh yes, the tiara, necklace and earrings worn by the Queen on the way to her coronation. These are made from diamonds, each diamond being at least the size of a fingernail.

It's then that I remember: the visit to the Palace was actually a visit to a Charity. The Charity being the Royal Collection (of artwork, purchased by the Crown - Charles the First etc - over many years with what was, presumably, public money).

It's the first charity I've ever seen that has diamonds on display.

At the end of the tour, there's a coffee shop and a gift shop, which has lots of photos of a smiling Queen and small toiletries, biscuits, towels and other memorabilia, all for purchase. So I succumbed, purchasing an expensive cappuccino, with the Queen's crest tastefully picked out in chocolate, and several exorbitantly-priced towels with 'Buckingham Palace' embroidered on them in gold, so I could loan them to guests.

After all, I thought, it's for charity.

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