[UPDATE: As Prince William announces the Earthshot Prize 2023 will be held in Singapore with a stunning video of the city state’s Marina Bay area including Gardens By The Bay, Chopstix looks back at the launch of the gardens.]
Five years and billions of dollars in the planning, Gardens by the Bay is now open. What began as reclaimed land has been transformed into a landscape of plants, flowers, sculptures and water features adjoining Marina Bay Sands.
Bay South Garden, the first and largest of three phases, covers 54 hectares and features two massive bio domes. Both domes are set to specific temperatures to replicate differing climates from around the world. The Flower Dome is cool dry, mimicking the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions such as Spain while the Cloud Forest is a cool moist climate similar to the Tropical Montane region. Both cooled conservatories allow for a stunning array of plants and flowers not usually seen in Singapore.
Another striking feature of Bay South Garden is the Super Tree Grove. Ranging from 25 to 50 metres high, these concrete and metal constructs have been planted with climbing flowers, ferns, bromeliads and orchids to beautiful effect. At the night, the trees are brought to life by a light and projection show.
If you have a head for heights you can also admire the trees from another vantage point – by taking an elevator up to the ariel walkway. This 22 metre high, 128 metre long bridge links between the trees to give a fantastic view of the gardens and Marina Bay.
Two themed gardens are included in Bay Garden South, mixing horticulture with education. The Heritage garden reflects the history and culture of Singapore’s main ethnic groups (Indian, Chinese and Malay) as well as its colonial heritage.
World of Plants, on the other hand, showcases the biodiversity of plant life with features including “the secret life of trees” and “world of palms”. Much more fun than learning in a classroom.
Sustainability is an important factor in Gardens by the Bay. Dragonfly Lake and Kingfisher Lake provide a natural filtration system for water from the gardens. Water run off from the gardens is captured by the lakes and then re used as an in built irrigation system for all the plants and flowers. It also provides a habitat for fishes and dragonflies.
Commenting at the opening Dr Kiat W Tan, CEO of Gardens by the Bay said: “it is a place in which families, friends and communities can take time out, relax and create new and lasting memories. Our mission is to create a distinctive People’s Garden that would be cherished and well patronised.”
Netflix’s Queen Charlotte is the backstory of the wife of King George III as we’ve come to know her on Bridgerton, beginning when the young princess arrived in Britain to marry the monarch. Showrunner Shonda Rhimes says the prequel to Bridgerton came about as both she and Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos’ mother-in-law are “obsessed” with the Queen Charlotte character. If your interest in the real life 18th century queen consort has been similarly sparked, here’s how you can follow in her footsteps.
A good place to start is the newly opened Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (on until October 8th, not Tuesdays or Wednesdays). Queen Charlotte features prominently in this fascinating exhibition showing Georgian fashion primarily through portraiture from The Royal Collection. There are many paintings of the queen including a life size portrait in her coronation robe (above) by the king’s principal painter, Allan Ramsay; several depicting Charlotte with her family by one of her favourite artists, Johan Zoffany, and – star of the exhibition – a rarely displayed full length portrait (below) by Thomas Gainsborough.
Some of Charlotte’s jewellery and personal artefacts are also on display. Most interestingly the queen’s psalm book wrapped with elaborate fabric from one of her dresses, a needlework bag which she embroidered herself and a ring bearing a miniature of her husband given to her on her wedding day.
George III bought Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) for Queen Charlotte in 1761 as a private residence away from the nearby official royal residence St James’s. Charlotte liked it so much and spent so much time there it was renamed The Queen’s House.
The main body of Buckingham House remains where the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are today. After George and Charlotte’s day the house was remodelled and extended, mainly under the reigns of their son, George IV, and then Queen Victoria (their grand-daughter) into the palace it is now. Full length portraits of Charlotte hang above the Grand Staircase, Green Drawing Room and East Gallery in the State Rooms.
The Queen’s Gallery has a separate entrance and no access to Buckingham Palace itself but you can gain entrance to the State Rooms during the ten week Summer Opening which in 2023 runs from 14th July to 24th September.
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond
As a keen amateur botanist Queen Charlotte was big supporter of Kew Gardens which was founded by her mother in law, Princess Augusta. The queen enjoyed cataloguing and drawing the exotic flowers and plants at Kew. Today the botanical gardens on the outskirts of south west London is a wonderfully bucolic attraction with plant filled borders, dells, woodlands and temperate houses to explore.
George III bought what’s now called Kew Palace in the grounds as a summer retreat for the royal family. The diminutive (for a palace) building was built in the Dutch style of architecture originally as a house for a wealthy Flemish merchant. Its red brick and gables make for an eye catching sight. Charlotte actually died in the house and her bedroom has been conserved as it was in her lifetime. A Netflix spokesperson says although they weren’t able to film there Queen Charlottelocations manager, Tony Hood, and his team visited Kew Palace for inspiration.
Situated about as far away as you can get from the Palace in the south west of Kew Gardens , Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, was built not as a residence but as place for refreshments when the Queen went for walks in the extensive gardens. The rustic cottage is set in a bluebell wood and the adjoining paddock is where animals, including at one time kangaroos, were kept by the royals.
Both the Palace and the Cottage are open to the public from April until September 24th, the Cottage at weekends and bank holidays only.
Frogmore House, Windsor
Not to be confused with Frogmore Cottage, also on the Windsor Estate, which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex briefly lived in and have recently been asked to vacate (although they were allowed to hold their wedding evening reception at the grander Frogmore House). Queen Charlotte bought the house in the 1790s as a retreat from Windsor Castle and the increasing illness of her husband.
The queen and her daughters painted and studied botany there and Charlotte’s love of botany influenced the décor of what is now called the Mary Moser Room. Moser, a celebrated 18th century flower painter, was commissioned by the queen to decorate the walls and ceilings and her design can still be seen today.
Charlotte also commissioned the creation of Frogmore’s picturesque gardens (where Harry and Meghan had their engagement photos taken) adding paths, glades, mounts, lakes and bridges as well as the planting of over 4,000 trees and shrubs.
Frogmore House is usually open to the public on certain days in August, this year’s dates are TBC.
[UPDATE All eyes are on Buckingham Palace this week as King Charles III prepares for his Coronation. Chopstix looks back to what it’s like to visit the Summer Opening of The State Rooms. Dates for 2023 are Friday, 14 July to Sunday, 24 September.]
Walking up the red carpeted, gold leafed, double pronged Grand Staircase, it’s hard not to channel “You shall go to the ball!” I’m at Buckingham Palace to visit the State Rooms which are open to the public this summer, until October 2nd, for the first time since 2019. Chopstix had a preview of the self guided tour – a week later Jeff Bezos apparently booked on the Exclusive Evening Tour.
The State Rooms, where the British royal family meet and entertain official visitors, lie deep beyond the famous façade, in the West Wing of the Palace. Entry for the paying public (tickets for adults are £30 with concessions available) is not through the front gates but at the side on Buckingham Palace Road. Though once through “airport-style security” (where they are much more polite than at any airport I’ve been to) we access the same grand rooms as the dignitaries.
But first we’re given a few rules – no chewing of gum (“you can’t imagine where we find it”), no photographs of the State Rooms and no loos until the end of the tour.
First taste of the splendour is the aptly named Grand Staircase. The theatrical look is not accidental – the staircase was designed, like all The State Rooms, by John Nash who had a background in theatre set design. George 1V commissioned Nash to transform the then Buckingham House into a palace. Even the most jaded person couldn’t fail to be awed by the sheer magnificence and exquisite craftsmanship.
The self-guided tour (the free audio guide gives interesting insight into the history, art and design details) loops through the 19 State Rooms. Each room flows on to the next and the dramatic Throne Room comes so early on it can take you by surprise. Through the glorious in its own right Green Drawing Room my eye is drawn to two prominently placed thrones in the next room.
The theatrics are dialled up to maximum in the Throne Room: wall to wall crimson red with several crystal chandeliers and of course, thrones. One is embroidered “ER II” and the other, poignantly, “P” for the late Prince Philip. Fans of Prince William and Kate Middleton will recognise the room as the setting for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding portraits.
We are gently guided one way through the Palace by a subtly roped off areas. Uniformed staffers are positioned along the route, probably to check we don’t touch or photograph anything but all unfailingly friendly.
The Picture Gallery has recently been renovated as part of a massive repair plan for the Palace. The long, glass roofed room is lined with works by the world’s most famous painters including Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer.
The presence of Queen Victoria looms large in the next room, the East Gallery, which is packed with portraits of the monarch and her family. Each year the Summer Opening includes a special display in the Ball Supper Room, commissioned by Victoria and based between the East Gallery and the Ballroom.
In the enormous Ballroom, commissioned by Queen Victoria as she was running out of space for guests in the Blue Drawing Room. Today the lavish space is used for state banquets and investitures.
Following on from here the rest of the State Rooms overlook the Palace’s vast grounds. While there’s an initial urge to gawp at the garden, the sheer magnificence of the interiors ultimately keeps your interest inside. This run of rooms is the grandest including the Music Room, originally known as the Bow Drawing Room, with its striking blue columns and where Prince Charles was christened, and culminating in the ravishing White Drawing Room which includes a secret door used by the royals.
Downstairs, we walk through the Marble Hall which was created specifically to house marble sculptures. At the bottom of the stairs themselves is a full length sculpture of Mars and Venus carved from a single block.
The tour then leads out through the Bow Room to the garden where, conveniently, there’s a cafe set up on the West Terrace. Overlooking the lawn and lake, it’s a pleasant spot to sit for a coffee in a Buckingham Palace branded paper cup.
For more amusing Buckingham Palace branded merchandise there’s a large shop strategically placed on the way out of the grounds. You may also be tempted to stock up on an (admittedly cute) stuffed toy corgi or a bottle of royal gin.
As a bonus the way out is a seven minute walk around the edge of the gardens. Exiting on a busy London road which leads to The Goring hotel (where Catherine and the Middleton family spent the night before her wedding to Prince William) in one direction and Hyde Park Corner in the other, no carriage awaits me. Before I set off on foot though I do feel as if I should check for a pumpkin with six mice.
Having taken in New York, LA and suburban San Francisco in seasons one to three, Netflix’s OTT psychological satire, You, saw lead character Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley, Gossip Girl) hotfoot it to Paris at the end of the last series. But when season four dropped this month, the charming stalker turned serial killer quickly moves on to London on his “little European holiday”.
Joe is now masquerading as Jonathan Moore, a lecturer at Darcy College, and becomes the hunted rather than the hunter, embroiled in an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. On arriving in London “a city of art, theatre, books and the occasional douchebag,” as he describes it in his signature sardonic voiceover, Joe falls in with a young, rich and glamorous crowd that includes Simon Soo (Aidan Cheng) and his sister Sophie (Niccy Lin), offspring of a Chinese billionaire.
“Darcy College” is in reality Royal Holloway’s imposing campus in Surrey. Its grand library though is really Lincoln’s Inn in central London. Usually only accessible if you are a member of the England and Wales Bar, Lincoln’s Inn offers tours for the public but cannot always guarantee access to the library. Here are the other locations you can visit.
Joe, posing as Jonathan, lives in South Kensington, an expensive west London neighbourhood typicalised by white stucco townhouses and private garden squares. Our anti-hero is flat-sitting in real life Kynance Mews, a cobbled street so picture perfect he quips he’s living in a Hugh Grant film. The location is about a ten minute walk from the V&A, Natural History and Science museums. South Ken also has a number of appealing pubs including The Builder’s Arms on Kensington Court Place where Joe follows his latest obsession, Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie).
In episode one we see Joe strolling through Spitalfields, an arty area in East London. Walking along Brushfield Street he passes Spitalfields Market. There’s been a market on this site since 1666 and in its modernised incarnation it’s home to boutiques and restaurants as well as stalls. Joe then walks through Artillery Passage, a tiny lane of original Georgian shopfronts now including a number of shops and eateries. Commenting on the local hipsters and how drinking time starts early, he passes Commercial Tavern which has a telegenic corner location on Commercial Street and is known for its quirky interior. The pub is due to reopen in March following a refurbishment.
St Pancras International
Where Joe intercepts his season three obsession, Marienne, on her way back to Paris. Even if you’re not catching a train, St Pancras is worth a stop for its impressive Victorian architecture and “Europe’s longest champagne bar”. The station also features several contemporary sculptures and art installations.
Simon Soo’s art exhibition opening is held at “The Clotho Gallery” – in reality Old Billingsgate, former home of the famous 19thcentury fish market. The building is now an events space but you can visit the Grade II listed exterior next to The Thames with its distinctive arched glass doors shown in several scenes in You. The riverside pedestrianised area in front has a great view of Tower Bridge – as depicted in the scene where Joe sits waiting for Simon with the bridge lit up in the distance behind him.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square
Lady Phoebe (Tilly Keeper)’s apartment was filmed at the Four Seasons hotel in the City. She appears to live at one of the Residences which are bookable for extended stays and some of which, like Phoebe’s, have terraces with views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The hotel includes the two Michelin starred restaurant La Dame De Pic by acclaimed chef Anne-Sophie Pic.
Seething Lane Garden
Next to Ten Trinity Square is this manicured garden where Gemma Graham-Greene (Eve Austin) and Princess Blessing (Ozioma Whenu)drink coffee. The diarist Samuel Pepys lived on Seething Lane in the 1660s and is said to have buried his collection of cheese and wines under this spot during the Great Fire of London. There’s a bust of Pepys in the garden which Gemma poses for a photograph in front of.
St Bartholomew The Great – SPOILER ALERT
This atmospheric medieval church tucked away on West Smithfield is the setting for Simon’s funeral. Commemorating its 900th anniversary this year (it’s the oldest surviving church in London) St Bart’s The Great was built by a jester in the court of King Henry I. The church is usually open to the public every day (between services on a Sunday).
The group escape London for Phoebe’s country house, Hampsie, in reality Knebworth House in Hertfordshire about an hour from London. A gothic mansion with turrets and gargoyles, Joe remarks it looks like a cross between Downton Abbey and a vampire’s castle. In fact one previous custodian (Knebworth has been owned by the same family since 1490), Sir Edward Bulmer Lytton, penned the words “It was a dark and stormy night”.
The house and gardens re open to the public on March 19th (dates and times vary so check the website for details). Entry includes tours of the many lavish rooms full of heirlooms that feature in You including the Armoury Staircase, Banqueting Hall, Library (complete with the bookshelf concealed door) and the bedroom where Joe slept.
Joe and Kate have their Rom Com moment meandering through leafy north London enclave Primrose Hill which it takes its name from the nearby park with views of the city.
The couple can be seen strolling along the main thorough fare, Regents Park Road, which is lined with shops and restaurants. They then move along to the candy coloured residential Chalcot Crescent and Chalcot Square.
In another link with Hugh Grant, the road was a filming location for Paddington and Grant’s character’s flat was on the corner of Chalcot Square (below). The area is the home of many celebrities including Succession’s Brian Cox aka Logan Roy and Taylor Swift.
Top Chef, the Bravo TV show hosted by Tom olicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons, celebrated its twentieth season by filming entirely outside of the US with the World All Star “cheftestants” checking in to the Kimpton Fitzroy London.
This imposing terracotta tiled and turreted mansion on Russell Square – between Covent Garden and The City – first opened as a hotel in 1898 and has recently been refurbished and rebranded.
The Kimpton Fitzroy London (the name is a nod to the original architect of the Russell Hotel, Charles Fitzroy Doll) retains the Victorian grandeur including marble columns, mosaic floor tiles and soaring ceilings. Fitzroy Doll also designed the First Class Dining Room on the Titanic – taking inspiration from the Russell.
But the hotel has been brought firmly into the present with the help of top interior designers including Tara Bernerd and Russell Sage.
Tara Bernerd has brought a cool and calming aesthetic to the guest rooms and suites. These range from City Singles rooms featuring custom made single beds with wraparound headboards the Speciality Suites featuring four poster beds and roll top baths.
Of the several F&B outlets, Burr & Co is a casual space for a meeting over coffee, Galvin Bar & Grill serves a contemporary British menu, the Palm Court is the place for afternoon tea while Fitz’s, designed by Russell Sage, has an opulent fin de siècle feel for evening drinks.
A clutch of private dining and meeting rooms are available and there’s a 24 hour gym if/when jet lag strikes.