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What it’s like inside Buckingham Palace – you can visit the 19 State Rooms over the Summer, including a special Platinum Jubilee exhibition

Buckingham Palace. Credit: Andrew Holt. Copyright The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

[FURTHER UPDATE The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace will reopen to visitors on Thursday, 22 September. The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews will not reopen to the public in 2022. The special displays at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse marking the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II will not reopen.]

[UPDATE The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are closed until further notice following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8th. The Queen’s coffin is being brought to Buckingham Palace from Scotland on the evening of September 13th and will rest in the Bow Room and then the Throne Room for family and staff respectively to pay their respects. The Queen’s coffin will leave Buckingham Palace at 2.22pm on September 14th to lie in in state at Westminster Hall. Rest in Peace your Majesty]

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. 

Buckingham Palace Grand Staircase. Photographer: Derry Moore. The Royal Collection Trust Her Majesty Elizabeth II

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. 

Buckingham Palace Green Drawing Room. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

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.

Buckingham Palace Throne Room. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

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. 

Buckingham Palace Picture Gallery. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

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. 

For 2022 in celebration of the Queen’s seventy year reign the exhibition is Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession featuring portraits taken by official Royal photographer, the late Dorothy Wilding. 

Wildings’ photographs were the basis for Queen’s image on British stamps, bank notes and coins. The portraits were also distributed to British embassies around the world.

Dorothy Wilding portrait of the Queen. Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved

Past the exhibition the tour resumes 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 Queen’s back 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.

Buckingham Palace and gardens. The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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 Her Majesty’s 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 Queen’s favourite hotel” The Goring 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.

https://www.rct.uk/visit/buckingham-palace

Inside Harry and Meghan’s Luxury New York Bolthole: The Carlyle Hotel New York

The Carlyle entrance
The Carlyle, New York

Chopstix booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.

Opened as a residential hotel (The Carlyle still includes apartments) in the 1920s it went on to become a favourite with presidents, royalty and celebrities. JFK infamously met with Marilyn Monroe here, allegedly smuggling the film star in via the kitchens; it was reputedly Princess Diana’s favourite hotel in New York , William and Kate stayed in the Royal Suite on their visit to the city and it’s where VIPs get ready for the Met Ball fashion extravaganza.

The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished by Tony Chi (the designer behind Rosewood hotel group owner, Henry Cheng’s Hong Kong home) in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar (where Harry and Meghan were spotted this week) and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.

Bemelman Bar
Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, New York

We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.

For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.

The Carlyle currently has a Fall Limited Time Offer – book a reservation before September 30th 2021 and receive up to 30% off the best available rate – excluding the Presidential Suite.

Happy 10th Anniversary William & Catherine

Catherine’s wedding band just seen beneath her engagement ring

On the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tenth wedding anniversary on April 29th we look back at why the British royals wear Welsh gold wedding bands.

While celebrities tend to choose wedding bands adorned with diamonds to match the bling of their engagement rings, British royalty including the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex opt for something more understated. For nearly 100 years Britain’s senior royals have worn plain yellow gold wedding rings and this regal metal has derived from Wales – the rarest, most expensive in the world with Welsh gold bullion worth up to five times the spot price.

The custom started with the Queen Mother in 1923 when a nugget of pure gold from the Clogau St David’s mine in North Wales was gifted to the royal family, a piece of which was used to make the then Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s wedding ring for her marriage to the future King George V1. That same nugget was used to craft wedding bands for Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Princess Diana. 

Handily in the 1980s the Queen was gifted more gold from Wales. 36kg was presented by the Royal British Legion part of which was used to make Sarah, Duchess of York and, it’s thought, Sophie, Countess of Wessex’s wedding rings. And 1kg was gifted from Gwynfynydd mine in celebration of the Queen’s 60thbirthday. This is likely the source of Catherine and Meghan’s wedding rings.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex

Ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s nuptials St James’s Palace made the statement; “The wedding ring that Catherine Middleton will wear will be made of Welsh gold. The gold was given to Prince William by The Queen shortly after the couple were engaged. It has been in the family’s possession for some years and has been in the care of the Royal Jewellers. There are no further details on which mine the gold was mined from.”

Sitting half hidden by her huge sapphire engagement ring, Catherine’s slim yellow gold wedding band was made by royal warrant holders Wartski. Fittingly the jeweller was founded in North Wales and has a store in St James’s, just around the corner from Prince William’s London home at the time.

Similarly at the time of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s marriage Kensington Palace made the statement; “Ms Markle’s ring has been fashioned from a piece of Welsh gold, gifted by Her Majesty The Queen.” The band was made by Cleave and Company which also holds royal warrants and is the jeweller Prince Harry chose to create his now wife’s engagement ring. A spokesperson for Cleave says they were asked to produce “a classic 18 ct gold wedding band” for the Duchess. The ring appears to be daintily slim, in keeping with Meghan’s apparent fondness for delicate jewellery.

Gold hasn’t been extracted in Wales since 1998 however Alba Mineral Resources who took over Clogau in 2018 plans to reopen the mine and has also submitted an application for exploratory digs on nearby land in Snowdonia. So there could be a new Welsh Gold Rush on the way which would ensure the royals’ wedding ring tradition continuing for some years yet.

Feeling Like Royalty at Raffles

[UDPATE: Raffles Singapore, currently closed for restoration, is now accepting bookings for August 2019 onwards with updates including three new suite categories and a restaurant under the direction of Alain Ducasse.]

Checking into Raffles is an uplifting experience. When you pull up the gravel driveway outside the white wedding cake of a hotel in the heart of Singapore, you’re greeted by a toweringly tall sikh doorman, bearded and turbaned and wearing an imposing sashed uniform. He ushers you into the lobby, all cool marble flooring and fluted columns that reach up three lofty storeys. There is none of the hubbub of other hotels – only guests or “residents” are allowed inside – so the atmosphere is reassuringly calm and rarified. To borrow from Holly Golightly, you feel as though nothing bad could ever happen at Raffles.

No wonder it has attracted so many celebrities including Queen Elizabeth the second, Michael Jackson, Ava Gardner, a honeymooning Johnny Depp and Amber Heard and Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Raffles’ lofty and serene lobby

We’re shown, not to the Presidential Suite, where William and Kate recently stayed, but to the Somerset Maugham suite, number 102, overlooking the Palm Court. There have been many additions and alterations since Raffles first opened 125 years ago in December but this wing is the most serene. The view invites you to sink into a rattan chair on the balustraded veranda and sip a welcome Singapore Sling brought to you by your butler. So we do.

All the suites (there’s nothing so hum drum as a room at Raffles) are vast compared to modern hotels. They come with a veranda and a sitting room to the front and a huge bathroom to the back. Don’t expect a zen wetroom but instead Victorian tiles, a liberal amount of marble and brass fittings. Number 102 was Somerset Maugham’s favourite and is now the hotel’s most frequently requested suite. As well as the usual dark wooden floors, half tester bed, oriental rugs and antiques, our suite has framed pictures of and letters from W Somerset Maugham lining the walls, a writing desk and a smattering of the author’s novels. I suddenly feel under pressure.

The hotel’s Palm CourtTime for a cocktail. We cross the courtyard into the main building to the Writers Bar. Some people will encourage you to visit the famous Long Bar and throw peanut shells on the floor but the Writers Bar is lovelier; an exclusive little nook off the lobby. Billecart Salmon Ultra Brut champagne is on offer here – an exclusive in Singapore, cleverly chosen for its lightness in the searing Singapore heat.

After the resident pianist plays Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again at 8pm on the dot, we move into the adjoining Raffles Grill for dinner. An engaging waitress talks us competently through the menu and to start I choose the steamed foie gras which has a delicious salty topping and served with a pear that’s been poached for two hours in red wine.

The halibut main course comes with a nice crust of butter on the skin with punchy tomatoes on the side and is paired with a wonderful minerally Pouilly Fume. To finish, there’s a chocolate souffle which is all that it should be. Eric appears with a gigantic bottle of ’88 Armagnac and it would be churlish to refuse but after that it really is time for bed.

The next morning we climb the Gone with the Wind staircase that leads up from the lobby and head to the swimming pool, tucked away on the third floor. Set in a walled roof terrace with trellises covered in climbing plants, terracotta urns, flowering trees and striped towels on sun loungers, it’s part Italian garden, part beach club. Wonderfully I have the pool to myself save for a dragonfly.

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore. I’m just about hungry now so we go for breakfast in the Tiffin Room – an airy, colonial style restaurant with white pillars and ceiling fans on the opposite side of the lobby to Raffles Grill. There’s the usual five star buffet arrangement which is very well done but also an interesting a la carte menu. I order the Raffles Omelette – a spicy empire days inspired dish of eggs, peppers and chilli powder. Just the trick after a late night.

We return tot he Tiffin Room for lunch to try Raffles’ famous Indian buffet (while you’re staying here you really should eat inside the glorious main building as often as you can). the buffet is a spread of northern Indian hot and cold starters, chutneys, curries and vegetables with standouts such as cucumber masala salad and vohrnignt cooked black lentils. The highlight though is the chef’s specially prepared curry (on this occasion a rum soaked lamb dish) served as a generously proportioned amuse bounce and mopped up with freshly made naan breads.

The grandfather clock in the lobby is chiming signalling that it’s time to leave. I do so reluctantly. So long Raffles, I’ll see you again.

http://www.raffles.com/singapore

Feeling Like Royalty at Raffles

One of the three imposing doormen at the entrance to Raffles

 

Checking into Raffles is an uplifting experience. When you pull up the gravel driveway outside the white wedding cake of a hotel in the heart of Singapore, you’re greeted by a toweringly tall sikh doorman, bearded and turbaned and wearing an imposing sashed uniform. He ushers you into the lobby, all cool marble flooring and fluted columns that reach up three lofty storeys. There is none of the hubbub of other hotels – only guests or “residents” are allowed inside – so the atmosphere is reassuringly calm and rarified. To borrow from Holly Golightly, you feel as though nothing bad could ever happen at Raffles.

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