Buckingham Palace

Prince and Patron at Buckingham Palace

Each summer Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public while the Queen is away on her holidays. You can tour the palace and see its richly decorated state rooms and extraordinary art gallery.  But there is more!  A special exhibition accompanies the opening of the rooms and as it’s Prince Charles’ s 70th birthday this year, he gets to chose his favourite pieces of art to put on display in an exhibition entitled Prince and Patron. Continue reading

Buckingham Palace opens for summer 2014 with a look at the Royal Childhood

Fancy a nose around Buckingham Palace? Luckily HM The Queen kindly leaves London for several months each summer so can pop in!  As well as enjoying the sumptuous state rooms of Buckingham Palace, you can visit their special exhibition which changes each year. For 2014 we have ‘Royal Childhood’ as the theme, no doubt inspired by Prince George’s first birthday. They have well-loved toys and pristine ones, childhood outfits and gifts to the royal families from the time of the future George lV in 1767 through to Prince George of Cambridge.
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Flying into London

As many of you will know I’ve been in Africa for 9 weeks working on a voluntary project in Ghana and then joining a tour of West Africa. It was an amazing adventure and I feel very happy that I played my part in building a primary school in a very hands-on way! Our tour took us on the roads less travelled in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Senegal and there are many stories to tell about these dusty red roads but they are for another time… Continue reading

How much can you squeeze into a day and a half in London?

As you’ll know from my bio I offer private tours of London for small groups and they all want to see loads of stuff in London without feeling like they have been rushed from one place to the next. So, I though I would share with you my most recent tour which lasted a day and a half so you can see just how much you can pack in without exhausting yourself!

My guests were staying in Earl’s Court so on day one we set off from there by tube to St Paul’s Cathedral which is an amazing church although I can never decide which is my favourite, here or Westminster Abbey. On the way we saw the blue trees, one of London’s temporary art moments which we kept bumping into during our travels.  My guests were an energetic pair and wanted to climb to the very top so 365 feet later we emerged onto the very small platform of the Golden Gallery and enjoyed the view. We also loved seeing the display of donkeys in the cathedral – a visual art exhibition of 25 life sized differently decorated donkeys called Caravan 2013 highlighting interfaith co-operation. St Paul’s is an enduring symbol of London and the blue trees and donkeys show how there is always something new to see even when you think you know a place!

View from the top of St Paul’s
Bright blue trees


Painted donkeys

We strolled over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and explored a couple of the permanent collections, catching some Rothkos and even a Monet before a much needed coffee with a view back over the Millennium Bridge.  The Turbine Hall is closed as the Tate builds a massive extension so it’s not as impressive as usual as I love the grand entrance into that massive space but it’s definitely still worth a visit. Outside the Tate is another temporary art installation, the Endless Stair, a wooden structure based on Escher’s work. It’s fun to run up and down the stairs and take photos from all angles!


A walk along the south bank of the Thames gives you a chance to enjoy part of the Thames Path, voted second in a poll of great city walks by Lonely Planet readers, so that’s a major endorsement. Our destination was the London Eye for a 35 minute ride of changing views and perspectives. It’s such a smooth operation as you get on and off without it missing a beat and my guests certainly thought it was worth the ride.

A stroll over Westminster Bridge gives great photo opportunities of Big Ben and from there we had a good look at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and I went through some of the stories associated with both buildings including setting the record straight on what exactly is Big Ben. Everything looks so much more impressive and huge close up so it’s always walking right up to these historic sights. 

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

We reckoned that was enough for one day, as the lights were coming up to display Big Ben beautifully, so we headed back to Earl’s Court for a  meal and a rest! 

Day two saw an early start to catch the 9.30 Thames Clipper boat from Embankment to the Tower of London. Passing the sights we had seen from the bank yesterday, we saw these from a different angle and sailed beyond, passing close up to HMS Belfast with its huge guns.  It’s best to arrive at the Tower by boat, just as people have for millennia, especially those entering through Traitors Gate which always gives me a bit of a shiver as once in you’d not be coming out again – alive!  We were lucky enough to watch a Tower Bridge lift from our vantage point on the massive defensive walls by the medieval palace. Some days there are several lifts but some days none at all so I was very pleased to show my guests another of London’s iconic sights.  Our lunch stop was the Dickens Inn where they serve a decent fish and chips among the boats in St Katherine’s Docks.

The Tower of London from way up high


Tower Bridge lifts to let a sailing barge through

We hopped on the tube to Green Park to take through the greenery past many folk enjoying a rest on the deck chairs but we were on our way to our timed entry tickets for Buckingham Palace so no sitting for us. When the Queen goes on her summer holidays to Scotland, she allows her subjects, and other visitors, to have a look round the incredibly grand state rooms and galleries of fine paintings.  Each year there is a special exhibition and this year it is, of course, a celebration of the coronation which took place 60 years ago in 2013. As we’d visited the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, we could join up some of the dots having seen the coronation crown and film of the event itself. In the palace they have her coronation dresses and robes and the crown wore as she travelled to Westminster Abbey,  a beautiful sparkly piece which you can see on the Queen’s head on every UK stamp, though I have to admit I’d not noticed it before I went to this exhibition…..

Beautiful coronation robes


Sparkling crown

 A well deserved coffee was on offer at the cafe in the Buckingham Palace gardens where they dust the cappuccino with a chocolate crown and decorate the cakes with chocolate crowns – nice touch!  The exit is via the excellent shop and the extensive gardens. 

Fancy cakes and coffee at the Buckingham Palace cafe

To complete the London Transport experience for my guests, we grabbed ourselves a trip on a red double decker bus along Piccadilly, past the Ritz and along Pall Mall before hopping off to enjoy a wander through St James’s Park and Horse Guards Parade. There is always something happening on the streets of London and we were not disappointed as we bumped into the Round Britain Tour Cycle and saw one group whizz past us at speed while trying to grab their drinks!

Tour of Britain

A short walk up Whitehall took us to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson’s Column – I’d told my guests all about him when we saw his grave in the crypt of St Paul’s – and to climb on the lions for the essential photo. We enjoyed the temporary art work on the fourth plinth which is a massive blue cockerel, the same blue as the St Paul’s trees strangely enough. We had just enough energy to pop into the National Gallery to see the impressionist rooms and marvel at the exquisite work by Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas.

The brilliant blue cockerel

As Covent Garden with its plentiful bars and restaurants was just next door we headed up to the balcony bar at the Brasserie Blanc for a well earned glass of wine (or 2!) and a snack as the sun went down.   

Phew – I must admit it was tiring but we saw so much and didn’t have to rush around to fit it all in. My guests were full of energy and enthusiasm and really enjoyed their experience of London and the opportunity to some of the top sights that it has to offer with their own private tour from It’s Your London.

What would be your favourite day and a half in London?

Bye for now,

Why not visit Buckingham Palace in this Coronation year?

Every summer the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays which means we can visit her London home, Buckingham Palace. Each year they host a special exhibition as part of the tour of the State Rooms and unsurprisingly this year it celebrates the coronation in 1953. I’ve been asked, by understandably confused visitors, wasn’t that last year? The answer is she became Queen in 1952 after the death of her father but the coronation wasn’t until the following year as I guess it takes rather a lot of organising! 

I was lucky enough to attend a preview and was able to take some photos of the exhibition, which is not normally allowed, however the State Rooms were still off limits. I’m really pleased to be able to give you a peak into the 2013 special exhibition on the Queen’s Coronation. 

The centre piece is the beautiful white satin coronation dress, decorated with the symbols of the home nations:-roses for England, thistles for Scotland, leeks for Wales, and shamrocks for Ireland, as well as symbols of Commonwealth countries. It was designed by Norman Hartnell and is displayed with the dramatic purple silk velvet robe which is 6.5 metres long.

Coronation dress

This next view of the exhibition gives you a chance to see the impressive ballroom where the exhibition is being held.  You can view an unprecedented collection of dresses, uniforms and robes worn at the Coronation, not seen together since, including the endearing costumes worn by the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne who were just 4 and 2 years old on the day.

Palace ballroom turned exhibition space
Prince Charles and Princess Anne’s outfits

 Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother wore fabulous dresses as did the Maids of Honour, all in the same theme:

Princess Margaret’s dress on the left, Queen Mother’s on the right


Maids of Honour dresses

 You can see some dazzling jewels  including the Diamond Diadem, dating from 1821 which the Queen wore on the way to Westminster Abbey and the Coronation necklace which was made for Queen Victoria in 1858. The Diadem might look familiar as the Queen wears it on our postage stamps!

Excellent visual displays add to the magic – one shows the various stages of the ceremony which lasted a full 3 hours! Another uses a wall as the screen for photographs of the day.

The stages of the coronation ceremony


Capturing the memories of the day

The coronation was a great moment in television history and the BBC mounted their first big outside broadcast and an original film camera marks this event, when 27 million people gathered around a limited number of TV sets and 11 million caught it on their radio sets. 


Every big event needs a good meal afterwards and the Coronation Banquets catered for 400 guests eating off the finest Sevres porcelain and silver gilt tableware. The main course was lamb with strawberries for pudding, all beautifully described in French on the menus! These recreated tables also give you a peak at the sumptuous decorations in one of the Palace rooms:

There is a lot more to see and enjoy beyond my few highlights of the special exhibition and you get to see the rest of the Palace as well. Her Majesty will let you in from now through to 29th September so I’d recommend popping in if you are visiting London!

Bye for now,

What an amazing London weekend!

London dishes up some pretty amazing weekends but we are still recovering from the last one!  We are in the middle of a heatwave with temperatures nudging 30 degrees (or 86 degrees) so all the outdoor events are thanking their lucky stars the rain has stopped – for now at least. 

Last weekend was my big chance to spend 2 days in Hyde Park at the British Summer Time festival and follow that with a day in the gardens of Buckingham Palace for the Coronation festival. I was excited about both and rightly so. 


Firstly, Hyde Park. We had 2 days of tickets and despite cancellations from Elton John and Tom Odell, it was a treat and luckily I live a short walk away so could stroll home afterwards as 60,000 people headed for the tube stations!  But really it was all about the Rolling Stones, truly great stars of the pop and rock world.

A huge area of Hyde Park was sectioned off for the festival and for the most part there was plenty of space to wander around in and enjoy everything on offer:  the top end food suppliers, the several stages, the excellent and plentiful toilets (always a bonus!) and, the themed areas where were were entertained between bands. We even saw a preview of the Notting Hill carnival and felt we were in Mexico by the brightly painted cantinas!

Carnival came early to Hyde Park




Are we in Mexico?

Elvis Costello was the star of the day with a storming set played at such a pace it seemed he was desperate to play every song he had for us – great fun! Hit after hit rolled by and we even sang happy birthday with him to his mother!


Ray Davies headlined the day and although we thought Elvis Costello should have been awarded that slot, it was a bit strange anyway as Elton John should have been doing his thing there until appendicitis hit him hard.

Day two was really all about the Rolling Stones and the place was absolutely mobbed from the start – such a different feel from the laid back atmosphere of day before. We were squashed into a small spot for most of the afternoon and very disappointed that Tom Odell came down with a chest infection – what is it about these music guys!!  Even more squashing later in 30 degree heat and I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it and then the sounds went up, the lights came on and ‘Start Me Up’ hit us. For the next 2 hours I was entranced by the phenomenon that is the Rolling Stones. I’ve never seen them so this was my big chance to find out what the fuss was all about and they did not disappoint. I swear Mick Jagger has stolen the body of a thirty year old and stuck his head on top! The energy and swagger were all there. They played all the big numbers and I loved it all. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of our evening of the Stones:








We were exhausted but the next day saw a complete change of pace as Sunday morning we headed off to Buckingham Palace for the Coronation Festival. The Queen opened up her gardens to the ‘warrant holders’ who are the suppliers who hold the ‘By Appointment to…’ badge as they supply a member of the royal family with goods or services. It was all very tasteful and tasty with lots of samples to try out from new Pimm’s to earl grey biscuits, through loads of whiskeys, gins and tarts, chocolates…… you get the picture. The palace looked great as we arrived although the big stage for the evening concerts obscured the magnificent rear facade. There was plenty to keep us entertained once we’d hoovered up the food and drink including an unexpectedly lovely performance by the National Youth Ballet of scenes from Alice in Wonderland with brilliant costumes and dancing – what a treat.  We saw the Queen’s rose, coronation benches, a fashion show and a great new singer and explored the spacious gardens at leisure before heading home again.

Arriving at the palace – side entrance



A rose called ‘Gracious Queen’


New themed  benches


Top quality marquees


Alice in Wonderland




Alice in Wonderland

Time for a lay down now!  It was a great weekend in the middle of London’s heatwave, making it memorable in every way.  There’s plenty more to report on so come back soon…

Bye for now,

What a weekend – the Diamond Jubilee in London!

The flags were hanging everywhere and the bunting was covering everything so London was ready for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a massive party to celebrate 60 years on the throne.

Where to start? There was so much going on it was amazing and I was lucky enough to go to these fun events: private garden party in Notting Hill;  River Pageant from the Tower of London; and the Jubilee procession from a seat in front of Buckingham Palace. It’s going to be a long blog…….!

Let’s start with a few photos of London getting in the mood – decked out in more Union Jacks than you could imagine:

Covent Garden


Regent Street

 I started the festivities with Notting Hill garden party, held in Ladbroke Square Gardens, the largest of all London’s private gardens (after Buckingham Palace!). It was tickets only and we were served amazing Jubilee themed cakes on china plates and even had a visit from the Queen! It was a Father Christmas moment with so many excited small children – do you tell them it’s not the real Queen?  The sun came out and it was glorious and fingers were crossed for Sunday……. 

On Sunday we were promised the largest river pageant for 350 years and the forecast was not good but we are British so we donned waterproofs and set off. I was very lucky to have a special place in the Tower of London to watch the thousand boats of all shapes and sizes go past, including the Queens huge barge, golden Gloriana, a barge of ringing bells, small boats from the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War, gondoliers and Native Americans and so many more!  IBy mid afternoon the rain had come and drenched the crowds leading to jokes all round about the Queen’s ‘reign’ (or rather ‘rain’). We were very damp but spirits were still high. I loved it and the moment that the rowed boats swept into view was so spectacular I will always remember it, especially knowing those brave souls had been rowing for 7 miles by then!

Hundreds of boats sweep into view!




Bells barge


The huge royal barge


Royals (at a distance!)


Important people at the Tower


Hard rowing…


The Hat boat – wonderfully silly!


(Hope the video works for you)

Monday saw the return of the sun and the huge concert at Buckingham Palace with the biggest fireworks I can remember, which I could hear from my flat!  We watched this on the TV and here are a couple of photos off the TV to show you the incredible sights.

Crowds dancing on the Mall


Extraordinary fireworks

For final day there were more formal celebrations when the Queen went to St Paul’s cathedral to give thanks for her 60 years as monarch.  The huge banks of seats, set up for the concert the night before in front of Buckingham Palace, were up for grabs in a ballot earlier in the year and I won a pair so set off to see the Queen ride in and out, to catch the royal family on the balcony and a RAF fly past.  We could see the church service and the procession through the streets of London on big screens and once the royals where in the Palace the crowds from the Mall surged into the space in front of the gates in their thousands to cheer and wave. Of course, that’s when the rain came down again!  However it was great fun and we could see the Queen and her immediate family (just Charles, Camilla, Wills and Kate and Harry) and the flypast was very loud and dramatic with Second World War planes as well as the Red Arrows.

Yours truly on the spot!


Wonderful horses


There was a lot of marching to be done


The Queen returns in her fancy carriage


Thousands waving to the balcony


The Royals


Red Arrows in prefect formation

So, then it was over and I was left with great memories and real admiration for the Queen’s stamina as she is 86 and managed to go to the races on Saturday, stand for hours in the cold and damp on a boat on Sunday, was up to light a beacon at 10.30pm on Monday, did a full day of engagements on Tuesday and still had more to do the rest of the week. I was tired out and I didn’t do half of it! 

It was a wonderful time to be in London and join the excitement of the crowds who were genuinely pleased for the Queen and proud of her. Patriotism broke out and people were so happy to be part of the celebrations, the incredible set pieces but also the local street parties bringing neighbours together. 

Roll on the Olympics!

Bye for now.