Buckingham Palace: what it takes to be the Queen An exhibition of the Queen's Year has been chosen to mark the summer opening of Buckingham Palace this week.
Her Majesty The Queen at her desk in Buckingham Palace, c.1968 Featured in The Queen's Year, Special exhibition at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace, 27 July - 1 October 2010 Photo: THE ROYAL COLLECTION
With unintentionally clever timing, an exhibition of The Queen’s Year has been chosen to mark the summer opening of Buckingham Palace this week. Against a background of rumoured cutbacks in the royal household and niggles about the Civil List, the palace opens its doors on a mind-boggling display of what the Queen does, when and how she does it, and why.
Here, in all its peculiar splendour and fixity, is a visual audit of the modern working monarchy, from sublime ritual to a visit to an umbrella factory in the East End.
The 18ft long, gold-braided Robe of State that streams behind the Queen’s small person at the State Opening of Parliament is on display for the first time. Her well-used side saddle recalls the commanding figure she cut in her scarlet regimental tunic and plumed tricorn hat when she rode to the Trooping the Colour on horseback. There are those comfortable loose-cut day dresses that no roving monarch should be without; the sparkly evening dresses from slimmer days. Crowns and swords, seen up close and dazzling. Royal Ascot hats quiver like birds of paradise, reflecting the elan of her days at the races.
The continuum of her calendar requires the Queen, aged 84, to put in the miles of a travelling salesman and to have the stamina of a junior doctor. She has made 325 visits abroad since 1952, conferred 400,000 honours and given more than 100 state banquets. Whether she actually spoke the words ascribed to her: “I have to be seen to be believed”, that is how she conducts herself. Being seen is an objective: it is what makes monarchy real.
“What strikes you”, says David Oakey, Assistant to the Deputy Surveyor and co-curator of the exhibition, “is that this is an phenomenal schedule of work for someone in their twenties, let alone someone in their eighties. Through her seasonal activities in different parts of the country, people will get a true impression of all the Queen does and the life of a modern working palace.”
Monarchy, says Edward Griffiths, Deputy Master of the Royal Household, must be associated with events that are done as well as they can be. As the Queen’s de facto head of hospitality, he is responsible for everything from the smooth-running of state banquets to the taste, texture and endurance of every last cucumber sandwich at garden parties. How do you get the water out of the cucumber so it doesn’t make the bread soggy? What is the right amount of butter to make a buffer between the cucumber and the bread?