Palaces, buildings developed by human society during times of prosperity, expansion, peace and stable government today provide a setting for state occasions, hospitality and exhibitions of objects relevant to our cultural development.
This Summer in the northern hemisphere marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales on 31 August 1997 in Paris. At Buckingham Palace in London now showing until October 1, 2017 in The Music Room, one of the State Rooms open to the public, is a special display commemorating her loss.
It features the desk at which she worked daily during the time she lived in Kensington Palace. Many of the objects shown on and around her desk have been especially selected by William, The Duke of Cambridge and his brother Prince Harry, to reflect their mother’s commitment to duty and their personal memories of her.
A pair of Ballet shoes represent what a great advocate she was for the performance arts, in particularly ballet. The pair on display used to hang on the door of her sitting room at Kensington Palace.
Her own wooden school tuck box and typewriter used at boarding school will be displayed next to her case of cassette tapes, containing the music she loved. They include songs from favourite albums by Elton John, George Micahel and Diana Ross representing popular culture while others are from the classical repertoire of opera and piano concerts she regularly attended.
A calendar by Cartier given as a gift to by the then President and Mrs Reagan when she visited the United States as Princess of Wales in 1985, will stand near a frame containing photographs of friends and family.
Her briefcase another gift from the Worshipful Company of Glovers when she was married in 1982, is also nearby, as are the round enamel boxes she commissioned from Halcyon Days of London as gifts to give to hosts on her trips overseas, scattered on her desk.
Buckingham Palace at London has been a focus for the British people at times of national rejoicing and crisis for over a century now. Formerly Buckingham House named for the Duke who built it, this architectural mish mash of style only became a residence for royalty after George III acquired it in 1761.
Enlarged by his successor George IV’s famous architect John Nash and completed by Edward Blore following his dismissal, it became an official ‘palace’ of the British monarchy when Queen Victoria first went to live there after her accession to the throne in 1837.
Art and architecture throughout the ages has always reflected the social, intellectual and philosophical ideas of each age and now as I also understand it, our emotional needs as well.
Becoming part of history in the making I landed at London the day after the death of Diana; the woman the Prime Minister Tony Blair had named the People’s Princess. She had been a ray of hope to everyone and the city was in a sombre mood.
Diana’s spirit had always demanded there was always hope and she offered her motherly affection openly and without reservation to those who needed it. This is a contributing factor as to why she has become a much admired icon in a world of rapid change, praised for her successes and forgiven for her failures by the people who loved her, extending far beyond her family circle to embrace the global community.
In London on the days spent leading up to her funeral the tour group I was guiding witnessed scenes of grown men openly weeping, women and children huddled together sobbing for the loss of this lovely girl, as the flowers grew exponentially.
Many since have endeavoured to understand why and it seems to me, having been there at the time, collectively the British people were bearing a burden of guilt for what had happened to the role model they so admired for having the courage of her convictions. For over a decade they had drawn on her strength.
On the day of the funeral my group all knew we were at the centre of a peaceful storm. Waking up to thousands of people streaming silently across a city smothered by an eerie stillness without a car in sight, across the streets and parks we watched them come to witness her funeral procession from our vantage point on the Royal Overseas League terrace overlooking Green Park, all with a singular purpose. That of paying homage to loveliness. No wonder she has become an icon.
We walked to the Mall just before the gun carriage came along to find people packed ten deep on the street. The silence became unbearable and when we heard the clip clop of the hooves of the horses bearing the gun carriage along, we fled back indoors, retreating to our rooms quietly to watch the funeral on television and to both grieve and pray with everyone else.
Following her body out of London in our bus to where our study tour was to begin, the ancient cathedral town of Bury St. Edmond’s, it was inside the confines of this market town’s great Gothic Gate where we finally were able to light a candle in the wind to her memory, weeping openly along with everyone else.
The Queen and Diana did share a love for charitable and not for profit organisations during their lifetimes, giving of their time generously as required.
The main Exhibition on show this Summer in the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace is a display of Royal Gifts, featuring more than 200 unique objects presented to HM The Queen throughout her sixty five year reign.
Exploring HM Queen Elizabeth’s role as the Head of State in the United Kingdom and Head of The Commonwealth of Nations who offer her allegiance, including Australia, the gifts have been presented by people from all walks of life and all backgrounds living in as many as one hundred countries and territories.
Major Tim Peake CMG presented the Union Flag badge he wore in space to The Queen at Windsor Castle in April 2017.
He had applied it to the left arm of his spacesuit before undertaking the first spacewalk by a British astronaut, outside the International Space Station on 15 January 2016 and features among gifts made to monarchs by other great British explorers, such as Captain James Cook who discovered Australia
The oldest object on show is likely to be the fossilized dinosaur bone presented to HM by the City of Drumheller, Alberta in Canada during a visit in 1959.
Made into a paperweight, it was originally part of the upper arm bone, probably from the Hadrosaur family of duck-billed herbivorous dinosaurs, and has been dated to around 86–66 million years old
The BAFTA award presented to The Queen by Sir Kenneth Branagh at a reception for the film industry at Windsor Castle in April 2013 will be sure to be admired. Diana was such a supporter of the arts.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017