An American Lummox Visits Buckingham Palace

When you work as a journalist, there are occasional situations that seem surreal – the kind of “step outside yourself moment” in which you make sure you’re mental DVR is on full record.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

As I stepped through the security gates of Buckingham Palace during a private media reception, I was fully aware that the wide-eyed boy from Milwaukee who first viewed the palace during a high school trip abroad had come a long way.

The event was specially scheduled by Visit England for the assembled press to get a preview of the events scheduled for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has been on the throne for 60 years – only the second British monarch to pull that off along with Queen Victoria – and there’s going to be a tremendous nationwide celebration this year to commemorate her big anniversary. From June 2-5, the party will include a concert at Buckingham Palace and a 1,000+ boat flotilla along the River Thames.

My reporter cohorts and I were holed up at the very comfortable Guoman Tower Hotel. Situated on the Thames with impressive views of London’s iconic Tower Bridge and just around the corner from the Tower of London (ancient prison and the fortress keep for the Crown Jewels), The Tower Hotel gave us an excellent base of operations with a quick hop over to Tower Hill tube station.

The Queen was in residence at the palace that night as the Union Flag of Great Britain (or the Union Jack, if you’re at sea) was flying high over the palace. She didn’t pop out to greet us, but it was after her dinner hour.

This American lummox needed to stay focused to deduce how one is expected to behave while in the Queen’s primary London residence. In this post 9/11 world, a wrong step draws the ire of men with machine guns. Obviously, I stuck to the tour, kept my mouth shut and resisted the urge to steel a souvenir. I wanted to return to the Tower Hotel and not end up spending a night in the Tower of London itself.

Once you step through the outer security gate into the outer courtyard, there’s no photography allowed anywhere in or or around Buckingham Palace. That’s not the best news for a journalist looking to do a story about the press tour as I passed through the Royal Dining Room and Royal Ballroom where the Queen knights her selected subjects.

I imagine the no photo policy is in place for three reasons:

1) Security – as would-be royal invaders could gain a better plan of attack if they had detailed images of the interior and exterior.

2) When the Queen is not in residence, it is possible for small groups of tourists to enjoy a similar palace tour. There’s less motivation for fans of the royal to pay for a Buckingham tour if they can enjoy photos of the interior online.

3) It would become a reporter and photographer free for all in the hallowed halls of Buckingham Palace if they allowed pictures. We can’t be trusted to behave in groups.

Personally, I kept my head and didn’t violate that photography policy. However, I didn’t hold the line when it came to the most historic reaches of the luxuriously, intricately decorated rooms and halls. The highlight of the tour for me was the Throne Room with its two velvet chairs for the Queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Once you’re in the this room, essentially the seat of royal power for the British Empire (even if that power is largely figurative these days), it’s impossible to get too close to the actual thrones. You certainly can’t sit in them. But, the historic throne for Queen Victoria is still in the Throne Room – set off to one side.

Of course, you’re not supposed to touch anything inside the palace. But I couldn’t stand to be that close to history and not have contact with it. Suffice to say, my midwestern buttocks didn’t actually sit in QUeen Victoria’s throne, but they might’ve brushed the cushions. I estimate I was the unofficial sovereign of 19th Century England for about a split second.

Once the tour was over, we had to step out of royal air into the cool spring time damp of western London and leave our briefly lived VIP tenure behind us. I was left with an impression that the official wings of Buckingham Palace are too stately and too polished for any family – even the Royals – to live in day in and day out. It’s more of a museum than a home.

But, it’s one hell of a museum if you want a taste of the elite life and want to pretend your royal for just a few minutes.


Photo Credit: r.nagy