Christmas in my house is all about families, games, celebration and laughter. It is also all about tradition, hanging the stockings on the fireplace, leaving milk and cookies for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph. Christmas in our house really begins on the last Saturday in November, we go to our local church for their Christmas Market, we have done this for so many years now. We always have a good time, buying presents, eating cakes, listening to the festive music and meeting old friends.
This special Christmas weekend we are breaking a bit with tradition, this Sunday we are trying something a bit new. We are all off to Kensington Palace, their Christmas entertainments have begun and we are going to join in the fun and play A Game of Crowns. When I say we are all, I really mean it. I am taking the whole family, Grandparents and all the kids included. We make a merry bunch and I think there will be something for everyone to enjoy. I can’t believe we haven’t been before, but we are rectifying that by experiencing the delights of Kensington Palace together for the first time. I know my Mother will love Fashion Rules, she was a milliner and will love a chance to get up close and personal with the different fashions and style of three icons of our Royal family. I am sure my Father will enjoy perusing the King’s State Apartments, the sumptuous surroundings of the court of George I and II. My eldest daughter it keen to see Victoria Revealed, getting behind the austere image of Queen Victoria and see how it matches up with her current obsession for “Horrible Histories”. I am looking forward to wandering round the Queen’s State apartments to hear the tragic story of Prince William Henry and the end of the Stuart dynasty.
Once we arrive we are presented with our crowns and all this history, visual richness and stimulating stories must actually wait, because we are quickly swept up in A Game of Crowns. We play a game of Frames in the King’s Gallery, we dress up and pose in giant picture frames, we mirror the pictures on the walls. We have such a giggle and a laugh, even my 3yr old son, notorious for striking out on his own wants to take part. I am quite glad we don’t have to mirror the pictures exactly, I think some may cause a bit of a stir if we follow them too closely.
My middle daughter’s eagle eyes get caught up in The Wren Hunt, in every room are hiding little birds. She rushes round each room seeking out the glint of a wing or beak, she glows with pride when she spots them. Some are really tricky, we even help the staff out by finding one particularly shy little feathered friend perched in a dark corner.
In the King’s Drawing Room we test our skill on a game of Hearts, the spinning table sees all the family age 3-69 playing and laughing together. I think there is a little bit of cheating going on, but that may just be because I am a sore loser.
I am distracted by playing the Mummers, using the windows as a stage, allowing you to place the people in the park as your actors. This is a perfect voyeurs treat. I spy a couple on a seat, I imagine their conversation and enjoy their simple intimacy.
We play parlour games and dancing, I seem to be on the losing team again. Winners and losers alike get to stamp and decorate their crowns and then we are off to crown ourselves as we see fit. This is great fun, my girls enjoy it immensely, my middle daughter takes her new title straight to her head. I think I may add my new monicker to my CV, we may have slightly upset Grandma she is announced as the Bloodthirsty Duchess of Kensington Palace.
All this and we haven’t even seen half of the exhibitions and rooms that Kensington palace has to offer. A quick break for lunch and we are off again, to see Victoria Revealed, a very intimate portrait of a young woman called to her duty, a personal insight to love, family and grief. The simple wedding dress is touchingly modest, the silk stockings on loan from the Museum of London a delicate reminder that beneath all the exterior pomp and imagery is a woman, a wife and a mother. I am quite in awe of the gorgeous jewelled eagle brooch, one of twelve that Queen Victoria gave to her maids of honour who attended her wedding to Prince Albert on the 10th February 1840. The silver, turquoise, pearls, rubies and diamonds are exquisite.
This leads us on to a more modern interpretation of Royalty with Fashion Rules, a look at recent decades of dress from the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales. It takes me a long time to get past the first room as my middle daughter is distracted by technology, her creative streak comes to the fore as she designs a dress fit for a princess. I think she must take after her Grandma. I don’t mind staying in this first room, I am mesmerised by the detail and bead work on these stunning dresses.
One dress in particular captures my attention, a delicate peach chiffon dinner dress, worn by the Queen on a state visit to America in 1976. The dress tells a story of a less formal time, in the 1960s and 1970s when dress became less traditional and more freedom was afforded in style and materials. I find this diaphanous feminity quite at odds with the familiar image of the Queen we have today. You so easily forget the young woman that wore and dazzled in such a beautiful delicate dress.
The final room with Diana’s dress I find slightly disappointing, the dresses are in no way as dazzling as the Princess Margaret extravagant and excessive fancy dress kaftan and turban created by Carl Toms. Worn by Princess Margaret, the Island of Mustique her hedonistic hideaway.
But as I move from room to room, I see many more people watching the video of Diana than any other film clip, it brings her to life on the screen. I think it speaks of the tragedy of her death and the aura that still surrounds her that these dresses can’t quite capture behind glass. The dresses speak volumes for the power of her personality to bring them to life, she did not need extravagant dresses to make an entrance or a statement.
Our fashion musings are interupted by three little people who have expended so much energy in the Game of Crowns that they have quite worn themselves out. It is time for us all to leave the Palace, decorated crowns clutched in little hands and happy tired little people to be whisked home on tube and train.
I can honestly say we had a really fab day. The games designed by Hide and Seek were often simple but worked so well for all ages, no one felt left out or sidelined. There was so much to see and do I feel a return visit in the New Year is on the cards, I might not take everyone next time it might be easier to take in the wealth of history and soak up the ambience. I doubt very much I will have as much fun as we did today. I can’t believe it has taken us so long to visit but it was well worth the wait.
I think we may well have begun a new Christmas tradition, one that sits quite well with mince pies and decorating the tree. I am planning next Christmas already and we have only just begun this years festivities. But then Playing at the Palace has a very good ring to it, don’t you think?
Part of Historic Royal Palaces
Christmas at Kensington Palace – Game of Crowns
30 November 2013 – 6 January 2014
26 March 2012 – 31 December 2013
4 July 2014 – 4 July 2015
All events are included in the general ticket price. Please see website for more details
- Monday – Sunday
- 10:00 – 17:00
- Last admission