29 July 2013

Why not visit Buckingham Palace in this Coronation year?

Every summer the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays which means we can visit her London home, Buckingham Palace. Each year they host a special exhibition as part of the tour of the State Rooms and unsurprisingly this year it celebrates the coronation in 1953. I've been asked, by understandably confused visitors, wasn't that last year? The answer is she became Queen in 1952 after the death of her father but the coronation wasn't until the following year as I guess it takes rather a lot of organising! 

I was lucky enough to attend a preview and was able to take some photos of the exhibition, which is not normally allowed, however the State Rooms were still off limits. I'm really pleased to be able to give you a peak into the 2013 special exhibition on the Queen's Coronation. 

The centre piece is the beautiful white satin coronation dress, decorated with the symbols of the home nations:-roses for England, thistles for Scotland, leeks for Wales, and shamrocks for Ireland, as well as symbols of Commonwealth countries. It was designed by Norman Hartnell and is displayed with the dramatic purple silk velvet robe which is 6.5 metres long.

Coronation dress

This next view of the exhibition gives you a chance to see the impressive ballroom where the exhibition is being held.  You can view an unprecedented collection of dresses, uniforms and robes worn at the Coronation, not seen together since, including the endearing costumes worn by the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne who were just 4 and 2 years old on the day.

Palace ballroom turned exhibition space
Prince Charles and Princess Anne's outfits
 Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother wore fabulous dresses as did the Maids of Honour, all in the same theme:

Princess Margaret's dress on the left, Queen Mother's on the right

Maids of Honour dresses

 You can see some dazzling jewels  including the Diamond Diadem, dating from 1821 which the Queen wore on the way to Westminster Abbey and the Coronation necklace which was made for Queen Victoria in 1858. The Diadem might look familiar as the Queen wears it on our postage stamps!

Excellent visual displays add to the magic - one shows the various stages of the ceremony which lasted a full 3 hours! Another uses a wall as the screen for photographs of the day.

The stages of the coronation ceremony

Capturing the memories of the day

The coronation was a great moment in television history and the BBC mounted their first big outside broadcast and an original film camera marks this event, when 27 million people gathered around a limited number of TV sets and 11 million caught it on their radio sets. 

Every big event needs a good meal afterwards and the Coronation Banquets catered for 400 guests eating off the finest Sevres porcelain and silver gilt tableware. The main course was lamb with strawberries for pudding, all beautifully described in French on the menus! These recreated tables also give you a peak at the sumptuous decorations in one of the Palace rooms:

There is a lot more to see and enjoy beyond my few highlights of the special exhibition and you get to see the rest of the Palace as well. Her Majesty will let you in from now through to 29th September so I'd recommend popping in if you are visiting London!

Bye for now,

18 July 2013

What an amazing London weekend!

London dishes up some pretty amazing weekends but we are still recovering from the last one!  We are in the middle of a heatwave with temperatures nudging 30 degrees (or 86 degrees) so all the outdoor events are thanking their lucky stars the rain has stopped - for now at least. 

Last weekend was my big chance to spend 2 days in Hyde Park at the British Summer Time festival and follow that with a day in the gardens of Buckingham Palace for the Coronation festival. I was excited about both and rightly so. 

Firstly, Hyde Park. We had 2 days of tickets and despite cancellations from Elton John and Tom Odell, it was a treat and luckily I live a short walk away so could stroll home afterwards as 60,000 people headed for the tube stations!  But really it was all about the Rolling Stones, truly great stars of the pop and rock world.

A huge area of Hyde Park was sectioned off for the festival and for the most part there was plenty of space to wander around in and enjoy everything on offer:  the top end food suppliers, the several stages, the excellent and plentiful toilets (always a bonus!) and, the themed areas where were were entertained between bands. We even saw a preview of the Notting Hill carnival and felt we were in Mexico by the brightly painted cantinas!

Carnival came early to Hyde Park

Are we in Mexico?
Elvis Costello was the star of the day with a storming set played at such a pace it seemed he was desperate to play every song he had for us - great fun! Hit after hit rolled by and we even sang happy birthday with him to his mother!

Ray Davies headlined the day and although we thought Elvis Costello should have been awarded that slot, it was a bit strange anyway as Elton John should have been doing his thing there until appendicitis hit him hard.

Day two was really all about the Rolling Stones and the place was absolutely mobbed from the start - such a different feel from the laid back atmosphere of day before. We were squashed into a small spot for most of the afternoon and very disappointed that Tom Odell came down with a chest infection - what is it about these music guys!!  Even more squashing later in 30 degree heat and I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it and then the sounds went up, the lights came on and 'Start Me Up' hit us. For the next 2 hours I was entranced by the phenomenon that is the Rolling Stones. I've never seen them so this was my big chance to find out what the fuss was all about and they did not disappoint. I swear Mick Jagger has stolen the body of a thirty year old and stuck his head on top! The energy and swagger were all there. They played all the big numbers and I loved it all. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of our evening of the Stones:

We were exhausted but the next day saw a complete change of pace as Sunday morning we headed off to Buckingham Palace for the Coronation Festival. The Queen opened up her gardens to the 'warrant holders' who are the suppliers who hold the 'By Appointment to...' badge as they supply a member of the royal family with goods or services. It was all very tasteful and tasty with lots of samples to try out from new Pimm's to earl grey biscuits, through loads of whiskeys, gins and tarts, chocolates...... you get the picture. The palace looked great as we arrived although the big stage for the evening concerts obscured the magnificent rear facade. There was plenty to keep us entertained once we'd hoovered up the food and drink including an unexpectedly lovely performance by the National Youth Ballet of scenes from Alice in Wonderland with brilliant costumes and dancing - what a treat.  We saw the Queen's rose, coronation benches, a fashion show and a great new singer and explored the spacious gardens at leisure before heading home again.

Arriving at the palace - side entrance

A rose called 'Gracious Queen'

New themed  benches

Top quality marquees

Alice in Wonderland


Alice in Wonderland
Time for a lay down now!  It was a great weekend in the middle of London's heatwave, making it memorable in every way.  There's plenty more to report on so come back soon...

Bye for now,

4 July 2013

Sunburn and umbrellas watching the tennis at Wimbledon!

A trip to Wimbledon to watch the tennis is a must for every summer in London, so I was very excited to have a day out on court 2 last week. The weather is such a crucial factor of any Wimbledon experience, unless you are lucky enough to have the golden ticket which gets you into the Centre Court where the roof ensures all day play. Otherwise you are at the mercy of the rain and court 2 is exposed to the elements so we were keeping our fingers crossed. 

The excitement builds as soon as you arrive at Southfields tube station, where the platform has a tennis court floor - nice touch!  A short bus ride takes you past the queue which has been enormous this year and so very long that the bus driver was warning people not to join it as the wait was 8.5 hours to get into the grounds!  We were feeling very pleased to have tickets at that point....
The platform at Southfields tube station is in the swing of it
As you enter Wimbledon you are struck by the history of the place as you pass the plaque telling you that the last King opened the grand building of the Centre Court in 1922. Sadly that's almost as long ago as the last British man to win - Fred Perry in 1936. There has of course been a British woman winner since then as Virginia Wade won in 1977 which was Wimbledon's centenary year and the Queen's silver jubilee year so it was a very well timed victory!
Wimbledon history

Fred Perry gets a bigger statue than Virginia Wade!

The famous exterior of the centre court with its ivy covered walls makes an impressive sight as does the terrace of the Royal Box as you never know who you might see there and just once it was me on the balcony on a very special visit which I will always treasure!

The famous ivy covered centre court and Royal Box terrace
Wimbledon is very up to date, using the latest technology on court and boasting its retractable roof on the centre court but they keep their older technologies going as well with manually updated Order of Play and Results boards.
They keep their old fashioned boards

Nothing wrong with doing it all by hand!
 After a good walk round to explore the grounds, we headed for Court 2 to take our seats for Lisicki versus Vesnina. We spotted the lines people having a briefing on the way - I do wonder what they were being told... We saw a good match and we spotted Lisicki as someone who could go far with a strong serve and powerful ground strokes. She's reached the semi-finals  so we were right! 
Grounds staff secret briefing

Lisicki's strong serve
The sunshine was amazing and lots of our fellow tennis fans were getting sunburn but the players were sheltered by the umbrellas held by the ball girls and boys during their change overs. We were treated to a mens match between Berdych and Brands.  Looking up I spotted the aerial camera which gives us all those great shots across the grounds and it looked like there was a cameraman up there too - what a great view if you can stand heights.

Shady moments in the change over

The aerial camera, way up high
If you don't have a ticket for a show court, the outside courts offer an amazingly close up experience of the game and the players. Then there is the important Pimm's and strawberries and cream to be consumed - a most important part of a day out at Wimbledon.

Close to the action on the outside courts
Essential strawberries, cream and Pimm's

Then the rain came down, the covers came on, the umbrellas went up and that was the end of it, except for the Centre Court and they kindly put his match onto the TV screens so we could watch Novak Djokovic from our rainy seats. However, this was too annoying as we could see the centre court lights but couldn't get in, so it was time to go home.  Even more annoying was that the final match we should have seen was Laura Robson, our British hope, but she had to wait until the next day and we were sad to miss seeing her play.

On come the covers

Sad sight...

Watching Djokovic in the TV with centre court behind

It was another great day at Wimbledon and now we all have our fingers crossed for Andy Murray's progress to the final. Come on Andy!!

Bye for now,