Friday, 5 September 2008

Kensington Palace Exhibition Review

Most famous as the home of Diana, Princess of Wales, Kensington Palace is situated in one of the most picturesque areas of London. A short walk from Kensington High Street and located in Hyde Park, my first surprise discovery was just how old the Palace is. I honestly had no idea that Kensington Palace dates back to the 17th Century and was adapted for Royal use by Sir Christopher Wren.

The famously sombre Queen Victoria was born here and lived at the Palace until she succeeded the throne when she moved to Buckingham Palace. Other members of the Royal Family, too many to mention, have lived in separate apartments on and off for nearly four hundred years and continue to do so today. It was, perhaps, only on the death of Princess Diana that Kensington Palace really reached the public psyche. Today, it remains a place of homage and mourning for people from across the globe.

The current exhibition running until June next year is entitled “The Last Debutantes” and celebrates 50 years since the last debutantes were presented at court. Crusaders (with not a lot better to do!) have tried to recreate this tradition for the younger generations since 1958 but no young ladies have been presented to the Queen for the last 50 years.

The exhibition itself is fascinating; the number of genuine momentos from that last debutante season is incredible. Among the glamorous gowns, gloves and jewellery were accessories in amazing condition including handbags, shoes. The most surprising exhibits were corsets and suspender belts – it’s amazing what people keep as mementoes of their youth!

More obvious keepsakes such as invitations to season events including Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace were curiously exciting to see! I guess I was totally sucked in by the glamour of the 1950’s and, if I’m honest, wish that life were still like this! This was an era when “coming out” meant something totally different to today’s meaning!

Most people visit Kensington Palace for its association with Princess Diana. Two apartments were used by Diana and Charles after their marriage and Diana remained with her sons, Princes William and Harry, after their divorce until her death in 1997. I was not expecting to see Diana’s apartments but there were a few mumbles of disappointment from other visitors when they realised they would not be seeing precisely where she lived! However, there were several of her dresses on display and this, for me, was the highlight.

The temporary exhibition entitled “Diana, Fashion and Style” is on until the end of the year. Of the 12 Diana dresses exhibited, probably the most famous was the dark blue dress she wore at the White House in 1985 when she was unforgettably spun around the dance floor by John Travolta! This same dress was sold at the auction of Diana’s dresses at Christie’s in New York in 1997 (before her death) and fetched a record breaking US$225,000! I’m not sure what happened to the rest of Diana’s clothes after her death but these 12 gowns are on loan to Kensington Palace which seems kind of weird!

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Kensington Palace and the two temporary exhibitions were particularly good. I admit that, once again, I was drawn towards temptation after the tour and made my way to the Orangery. The Orangery restaurant is, quite simply, the epitome of British style and luxury! It was the perfect place to take English afternoon tea and the perfect end to a Royal visit!

Kensington Palace tour and the temporary exhibitions are open 10am-6pm until the end of October. From November the Palace closes at 5pm.
Adult Entry: £12.30

London Pass holders can visit Kensington Palace and the temporary exhibitions free of charge and receive a 20% discount at the Orangery Restaurant.

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