31 August 2016 | 16 °C

| By: Zoe Craig

Review: Kensington Palace Reopens After £12m Revamp

Review: Kensington Palace Reopens After £12m Revamp
The newly landscaped gardens and new loggia give Kensington Palace a smart new entrance
The newly landscaped gardens and new loggia give Kensington Palace a smart new entrance
Luminous lace is a new light sculpture in the entrance of the palace. The piece, made of nearly 4km of electroluminescent wire and hundreds of Swarovski crystals is by designers Loop.pH, and is "inspired by the textile history of the palace"
Luminous lace is a new light sculpture in the entrance of the palace. The piece, made of nearly 4km of electroluminescent wire and hundreds of Swarovski crystals is by designers Loop.pH, and is "inspired by the textile history of the palace"
Portaits hung in the vestible are a Who's Who of Kensington Palace's former residents. Here's the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by Mario Testino, and Princess Margaret by Lord Snowdon
Portaits hung in the vestible are a Who's Who of Kensington Palace's former residents. Here's the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by Mario Testino, and Princess Margaret by Lord Snowdon
Detail from the Julie Verhoeven wallpaper on the way to the Diana dresses exhibition
Detail from the Julie Verhoeven wallpaper on the way to the Diana dresses exhibition
In the Diana section, you can see her Catherine Walker ivory silk dress and a black silk taffeta gown by Emanuel. Photo by Nick Wilkinson/newsteam.co.uk
In the Diana section, you can see her Catherine Walker ivory silk dress and a black silk taffeta gown by Emanuel. Photo by Nick Wilkinson/newsteam.co.uk
The evocative Love Room in Victoria Revealed is dedicated to telling the story of Victoria and Albert's romance
The evocative Love Room in Victoria Revealed is dedicated to telling the story of Victoria and Albert's romance
The famous, "sexy" Franz Xaver Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria, aged 24, hangs in the Love Room in Kensington Palace. Aparantly, it was Prince Albert's favourite.
The famous, "sexy" Franz Xaver Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria, aged 24, hangs in the Love Room in Kensington Palace. Aparantly, it was Prince Albert's favourite.
The intimidating Red Saloon where Victoria first met her Privy Council on 20 June 1837, aged just 18, is now newly restored
The intimidating Red Saloon where Victoria first met her Privy Council on 20 June 1837, aged just 18, is now newly restored
Text on the table in the Red Saloon, giving us insights into how Victoria was feeling on that day
Text on the table in the Red Saloon, giving us insights into how Victoria was feeling on that day
The Mourning Room, devoid of colour, still features very elegant and creative displays. Here's a bust of Albert, surrounded by family portraits and photographs
The Mourning Room, devoid of colour, still features very elegant and creative displays. Here's a bust of Albert, surrounded by family portraits and photographs
A flock of porcelain birds make up part of Coney’s set design in The Queen’s Gallery
A flock of porcelain birds make up part of Coney’s set design in The Queen’s Gallery
The King's Gallery at Kensington Palace. Built for William III, it was finished in 1700, and transformed with red damask in 1725 by William Kent for George I
The King's Gallery at Kensington Palace. Built for William III, it was finished in 1700, and transformed with red damask in 1725 by William Kent for George I

Kensington Palace is reopening on Monday, following an extensive refurb ready for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

What was once a stuffy and frustrating member of the Historic Royal Palaces to visit is now accessible, lively, intriguing and very, very modern. We took a look around ahead of the opening on Monday.

A smart new entrance "hub" welcomes visitors to the building from newly landscaped gardens, linking the Palace to the rest of Kensington Gardens. (Those gates, forever associated with Princess Diana's death, are now a side feature, rather than the way in.) From the vestibule, you can follow one of four routes to four different displays: Victoria Revealed, Kings Apartments, Queens Apartments or Diana: Glimpses of a Modern Princess.

For the Diana section, "Glimpses" is a very good epithet. It's not a large display. Follow a corridor lined with the frankly bizarre wallpaper by Julie Verhoeven (see above), and you'll find a small room with five dresses on display. Two are by Catherine Walker; another is a black taffeta gown by Emanuel. We can't help wondering if, for fans making a pilgrimage to her former home, this small slice of Diana's wardrobe might be a little disappointing.

If you're into Victoriana, though, there's plenty to see here. Victoria Revealed is, err, a revelation. Through the 10 rooms where our longest reigning monarch was born, brought up and first met Prince Albert, you follow the chronology of the Queen's life, from babyhood to marriage and monarchy and all those years of mourning. As well as her first pair of black silk booties, you can see her wedding dress made of Spitalfields silk, and her oldest surviving mourning dress. But this is no formal "display cases and detailed lists" museum. Instead, the story is narrated by Victoria herself. Phrases from her diaries and letters are etched into mirrors, printed on carpets, embossed into tables: this is Queen Victoria via Tracey Emin. Lighting, music and clever interior design evoke different eras of her reign. Stand at the top of the staircase: there's a note about spotting the gorgeous Prince A for the first time. Glance up, and his dashing face appears, projected onto the wall where he would've been standing. It's great.

A few rooms later, Albert is dead. The rooms are plunged into darkness. Here you can see the copy of Sir Walter Scott's Peveril of the Peak, which was being read to the Prince Albert on his death bed, kept open at the point at which he died with a black-edged bookmark.

The exhibitions become more muddled in the Kings and Queens Apartments. We had less time to explore the installations by theatre-makers Coney, which might be why we struggled to get a handle on the stories told therein. It’s very beautiful – porcelain birds hang from the ceiling, love letters in bottles, soundscapes, more Emin-esque wordplay – and with more time we might've been able to get involved in the interactive House of Cards theatre show. It’s on our list for the next time we visit.

Kensington Palace is certainly transformed. It’s an incredibly modern, visual, feelings and emotions-led approach to displaying our history; museum curation for the Pinterest generation. Why tell us about Disraeli's politics, when you can scrawl on a wall what someone thought of him? Yes, the restored rooms, the original portraits and the cornerstone objects are all still there, but rather than being officially labelled and part of a dry, detailed history, they're surrounded by funky bits of modern interiors, moody theatrical lighting, or paper cut-outs by today's artists. We loved it, but we can't help wondering what fans of more traditional museums might think, or how quickly it might start to look dated.

Kensington Palace reopens on Monday 26 March. Tickets cost £14.50 for adults, £12 for concessions and are free to under 16s. Visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace for more information. We visited Kensington Palace on an early open day for the press. You can see more photos from our trip here.

Last Updated 01 June 2016

Zoe Craig

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