Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
LONDON (AP) — It’s the past home of Queen Victoria and Princess Diana, the future residence of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge — and, it’s hoped, a stop on tourists’ London itineraries.
Kensington Palace — part museum, part royal abode — is reopening to the public after a two-year, 12-million-pound ($19-million) makeover designed to give visitors a sense of what it is like to live in a centuries-old building that has witnessed both affairs of state and affairs of the heart.
Senior curator Joanna Marschner said she hopes the renovated building will shake up preconceptions about royal palaces, offering both the “big, glorious, golden rooms” that people expect, and a trove of more personal, revealing items — from Queen Victoria’s baby shoes to Princess Diana’s little black dress.
“I hope what we have done will engage people who have always thought ‘a royal palace is not for me,’” Marschner said Tuesday. “And for them to realize that these remarkable buildings — part of the DNA of the city — are for them.”
Tucked into Kensington Gardens, a public park in central London, Kensington Palace is a warm red-brick contrast to gray Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II’s London home.
It was home to six British monarchs, including Victoria, who spent her childhood here, and now contains several royal “apartments” — actually Georgian houses, one of which William and Kate will move into next year.
It also has dozens of rooms that are open to the public. The public side of the palace reopens Monday, in time for a busy tourist season that includes the queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the summer Olympics.
Project manager Jo Thwaites, who oversaw the renovation, said the changes involved “peeling back the layers of Kensington Palace in order to reveal much more for visitors to enjoy.”
Formerly shielded by hedges and fences that made its public entrance hard to find, the palace is now much more welcoming.
The entrance from the park lies beside a lovely ornamental garden surrounded by manicured lawns on which visitors are encouraged to dawdle. It comes as a surprise to find the signs posted there do not say “keep off the grass,” but merely warn people to take care on steep slopes.
Many visitors will head straight for a ground-floor display of dresses belonging to the palace’s most famous recent occupant, Princess Diana. She lived here for 16 years after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. After her death in a Paris car crash in 1997, thousands of mourners came to leave flowers outside the palace gates.
Display cases hold garments including a black silk taffeta gown by Emanuel, a Versace cocktail dress and a fuchsia Catherine Walker gown, alongside sketches of the garments and photographs — all revealing, according to curator Deirdre Murphy, “Diana’s evolving style and the important role fashion played in creating her public image.”
Upstairs is an exhibition devoted to Victoria, the only British monarch before the current queen to reach 60 years on the throne.
It includes the room where she was born and the room where in 1837 she was informed, at age 18, that her father had died and she was queen.
Personal items range from her first pair of baby shoes to a pair of the royal stockings — along with Victoria’s delighted description of how her husband, Prince Albert, helped her put them on.
Their marriage is traced from romantic start to tragic finish, with displays including Victoria’s ivory silk wedding gown and the black dress she wore in mourning after Albert’s death in 1861.
Further on are the grand state apartments originally inhabited by King William III and Queen Mary II, husband-and-wife monarchs who sat on the throne from 1689. It was they, Marschner said, who hired architect Christopher Wren to transform “a modest-ish 17th-century house into a baby palace.”
The rooms are grand, with Old Masters and gilded statues aplenty — but they also tell a moving human story.
With no children of their own, William and Mary pinned the succession hopes of their Stuart dynasty on Prince William, son of Mary’s sister Anne. The only child of Anne’s 18 pregnancies to survive infancy, he was a lively but delicate boy who died after falling ill while dancing at his 11th birthday party.
His death sparked both family mourning and a constitutional crisis. With no obvious successor, Parliament weighed the claims of 43 possible heirs before settling on a German cousin, Sophia of Hanover. She died before she could take the throne and her son became Britain’s King George I.
“In these rooms William and Mary debated what to do,” Marschner said. “Here they played with their little nephew, willing him to live.
“That is an extraordinary, compelling story.”
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)