A very rare treat yesterday afternoon. As you know, I’m working on another Luxury Lookback for ITV This Morning next Wednesday about Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration at Buckingham Palace. ITV fixed it with the Palace that Anda and I could have a private tour the exhibition with curator Caroline de Guitaut after it had closed to the public. I’ve been to Buckingham Palace a handful of times; once for a reception hosted by Princess Anne and a couple of times for tours and exhibitions.
On this occasion, we were asked to enter via the Side Entrance on Buckingham Palace Road. So we barrel in passports at the ready only to come nose to nose with a jolly blonde lady who said ‘I know you. How do I know you?’ Turns out it was Angela Kelly, The Queen’s personal assistant and curator of dress and jewellery. Mrs Kelly is largely responsible for Her Majesty’s relatively new era of elegance. I had tried to meet Mrs Kelly one Ascot and did send a copy of my Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style book to her at Marlborough House not realising she now resides wherever The Queen does.
It was with much excitement that we were led through the less than glamorous corridors used by the staff. I was amused to see signage reading ‘Holyroodhouse luggage only’ because the court is packing its trunks and heading north of the border for the Edinburgh garden party. Anyway, an anonymous door opens and we are in the Palace staterooms. It was no little thrill to ask if we could see the Winterhalter portrait round room and sneak a snap in the palace gardens with a very big urn. We were swept past velvet ropes and led up towards the exhibition space a few paces before the throne room.
Miss de Guitaut has worked for the Royal Collection for over twenty years though you’d never know it to look at her. However, her choice of diamonds from The Queen’s personal collection as well as various crown jewels is intelligent and fascinating on the subject of monarchy and the symbolism of the diamond from reign of George IV to the present Queen. Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration is a once in a lifetime exhibition and I believe the first time we have seen Granny’s Chips (the Cullinan III and IV diamond brooch) on display with the heart cut Cullinan V, the Cullinan VI and VIII pendant brooch and the Delhi Durbar diamond and Cambridge emerald necklace set with thew Cullinan VII diamond drop.
The entire exhibition is a joy but it was a particular thrill for me to see Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, Queen Alexandra’s diamond set fan made with hand curled white ostrich feathers, Queen Mary’s Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara and the Delhi Durbar tiara made for Queen Mary and now worn by the Duchess of Cornwall. The George IV diamond diadem is the finale to an exhibition none of us shall see the like of in our lifetimes again. Miss de Guitaut had marvellous stories about the Cambridge emeralds that once surmounted the Delhi Durbar tiara that were removed to be employed in the Vladimir tiara instead of the usual pearls.
It always fascinates me h0w jewels are set and reset. Possibly the most important piece commissioned by Her Majesty is the Williamson Diamond Brooch set with a 23.6-carat round brilliant. It isn’t the largest pink diamond in the world – I believe that is the Steinmetz Pink – but it is one of the most refined and delicate coloured diamonds in the world. My favourite story was about the Lover’s Knot tiara worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. I askeds Caroline where it was and she said it hadn’t been seen since the Princess died in 1997. ‘But it will doubtless turn-up one day’…
Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as too much excitement. I’ve had a busy old time of it lately and after the Palace was supposed to hurtle through Green Park to meet Joan Rolls to drive up to the Hampstead Theatre for Henry V. We’d been invited by Issy van Randwyck whose husband Ed is artistic director. As I wrote, I accompanied Issy to the gala evening of Chariots of Fire at the Gielgud earlier in the week. I got to Joan’s, got in the car but as we rounded the corner past Cecconi I had to bail. I was simply too tired, too hot and bothered and in very great need of a night with feet up watching Wimbledon. So I did.
A single fly in the ointment this week. I attended a dinner hosted by William Asprey at The Delaunay the other night. An editor I wrote for briefly was there who shall remain nameless. This female once told me my writing wasn’t good enough for her publication after she’d butchered a feature I wrote about Savile Row. So when Thames & Hudson published Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke I asked the press office to send her a copy inscribed ‘thank you for your encouragement and advice’: petty I know but I couldn’t help it.
Anyway, said female is of the type to whisper about you when you’re in the room and make you aware of it. I was quite prepared to take her on that night but desisted as a courtesy to my host. I was seated next to the assistant who asked what I did. I desisted from saying I was a failed journalist who had to seek alternative employment as an author/curator/broadcaster. I would not go back to my old life as a fashion journalist for all the opium in Afghanistan.
Until next time,