One should feel for Prince Philip

Posted by Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards ponders how the Queen and Prince Philip will meet the £150m cost of refurbishing Buckingham Palace - and speculates how big a say will the Duke of Edinburgh have on soft furnishings and accessories.

Just imagine Nick Knowles introducing a DIY SOS Special:

“He is 94 and she is 89 and they live in a dilapidated 18th century house. Asbestos threatens their health. Water leaks through the ceiling. Walls are crumbling. It needs re-wiring, re-plumbing. She survived the blitz. He served in the Royal Navy. Yet they are faced with a £150m refurbishment bill and their income is a mere £40m a year. It gets worse. Whilst we call on the good neighbours of London to give Buckingham Palace an extreme makeover they will lose the income gained from the tours of their home. They need our help.

Incidentally is the estimated £150m for a cash-in-hand job? Or is VAT yet to be added?

A quick play on the Dulux Paint online calculator, factoring in some of the largest and tallest rooms in Europe, suggests the Windsors’ requirements will be pushing 8,000 litres of paint to redecorate Buckingham Palace’s 775 rooms. That’s if they can get away with just one coat. Taxpayers will be grateful if the Windsors can wait for the B&Q Sale before beginning the refurb.

At an age when many a couple would have long ago down-sized to a two bed-room McCarthy and Stone retirement apartment, the Royals face dust-sheet disruption on an unprecedented scale. With 1514 doors in the 108 metres long Palace they have the opportunity to try all 152 Farrow and Ball colours several times over. This is a home that has its very own post code as well as Post Office, cinema and doctor’s surgery. 

One feels for Prince Philip. He and his wife have been out of the decorating game for their entire married life.  Since the Palace was last brushed-up, in 1952, interior design has changed beyond all recognition. He will be tripping over piles of Elle Decoration, Home and Gardens, Period Home and The English Home magazines packed with useful features such as “Regal style on a budget.” As well as swatches of soft furnishing fabrics there are now “libraries” of curtain material to stumble on too. On Sundays he will dragged round DFS and Furniture Village before their sales end.

In his mid-nineties the Prince has a whole new language to learn, “Elephant Breath or New White?” the Queen will ask over breakfast as she studies the Farrow and Ball colour chart. He will wonder what a “colour consultation” actually consists of.

His Royal Highness will worry that the Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen colour range, playfully nouveau, with its Pinch of Posh, Exceedingly Kipling Pink and Fluffy Bunny, is too frivolous for the thousands of tourists who visit the palace annually. 

The Farrow and Ball range seems to have been designed for palatial living – Cooks Blue, Picture Gallery Red, Dayroom Yellow and Breakfast Room Green. With wear and tear from more than 50,000 visitors attending functions every year any paint is going to do have to do considerably more than it says on the tin.

Hopefully the Queen will not waste too much time on those existentialist commands issued by the interior deco magazines. “Flood your bathroom with light,” all 58 of them? “Rethink your use of curtains.”  For all 760 windows? Nor can you be too creative with a Grade 1 listed building whilst Republicans monitor every last penny of spending. 

But there is a silver-lining. Redecoration provides an opportunity to have a big clear-out of those gifts acquired during years of royal tours – outsize Masai warrior shields and 9 feet long his and hers didgeridoos. And perhaps Charles will finally remove his A Level notes files to Highgrove and Princess Anne will, at long last, take on ownership of her childhood jodhpurs. 

Once Prince Philip shook hands and made polite conversation with painters, plasterers and plumbers as he toured Eastern Europe. Now he will have to produce galloons of tea and tons of biscuits for them thrice a day; the biggest white van convention ever will gather in front of the Palace. The daily ritual of “dragging” the gravel will have to be particularly vigilant for fag ends. The Royals are fortunate that they have a second home in Windsor - to escape to - if it all gets too much.

As the Royals consider whether it is time to say goodbye to the blue flock wallpaper of the drawing room and question whether The Throne Room should exhibit a plaster frieze more contemporary than the current version portraying The Wars of The Roses – possibly not members of the royal family featuring on It’s a Royal Knockout – there are critical decorating issues to debate. 

Will Charles and Camilla agree with their choices? How will posterity judge their taste? Perhaps Farrow and Ball should add a 153rd colour to their chart – Royal Decorating Blues.  

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