Christopher Warwick is a broadcaster, writer and biographer. Mr. Warwick is the author of two books on Princess Margaret; Princess Margaret – A Life of Contrasts and Princess Margaret. His article: ‘A Home Fit For a Future King….or Two’ published in the 8 September edition of The Lady Magazine was the impetus for this short interview.
If you were to describe Kensington Palace in five words, what would they be?
I’m not sure I could describe KP in only five words.
What were your initial thoughts and impressions upon your first visit?
My own impression on visiting Apartment 1A for the very first time, long ago, was its style and elegance, once described – as I mentioned in my article – as the exemplar of Style Anglaise. The house exuded a sense of tranquillity and graciousness, qualities that are usually associated with 18th-century English country houses, of which Apt 1A put me in mind. Yet, despite the beautiful room settings, the decor and the way in which they were furnished, mostly a blend of antique and modern (antique being chiefly Georgian/Regency), with the walls hung for the most part with contemporary works by John Piper, Pietro Annigoni, Patrick Procktor, Jean Cocteau, Oliver Messel and others, there was nothing remotely stuffy about the house. It was comfortable and ‘lived in’.
In your conversations with Princess Margaret, what was her favourite room/space in Kensington Palace?
She did, of course, enjoy her Drawing Room. On the ground floor, there were 4 reception rooms – the Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library and Garden Room – all of which overlooked a spacious and well stocked walled garden. But as the main living area in the house, the Drawing Room was where the Princess spent much of her time.
I know the readers of this piece are interested to know a bit more about the “ghosts. “Can you expand a bit on the “ghosts” that you describe in your article; ‘A Home Fit for a Future King or Two’. You wrote that “the ghosts-they have been seen as well as heard-come out and play.”
There have been many reports over the years, of royal and non-royal ghost sightings at Kensington Palace. Among those seen have been King George II, who died in his water closet at KP, Queen Mary II (of William and Mary fame), and Peter the Wild Boy, who had been found living a feral existence in the town of Hamelin and was brought to the Court of George II. It has been said that the sound of a spinning wheel, some say belonging to Princess Sophia, a daughter of George III, who may have lived in what is now known as Apartment 10, has also been heard. I dare say an online search will reveal yet more stories.
However, concentrating on Apartment 1A, two or three incidents spring to mind, told to me by those concerned. The incidents occurred during the late 1970s. At that time, Princess Margaret’s Housekeeper was ‘Mrs Mac’ and on one occasion when she was in the entrance hall, she sensed somebody looking at her. Turning round, she clearly saw the figure of a woman in Regency dress standing in the doorway to the Drawing Room. Who was she? A Georgian princess? A lady of the Court? There was no way of knowing, because Mrs Mac told me she was unable to see her face. Of course, when Kensington Palace was originally built, the entrance hall to Apt 1A was part of the 17th-century Stone Gallery, a long passage in the south-facing range which connected with the King’s Staircase. At that time, courtiers evidently had rooms off the Stone Gallery. Or could the faceless lady in her fine Regency dress, have been the Duchess of Inverness, morganatic wife of Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, who was the earliest resident of this part of the palace? We shall never know.
On another occasion, when the rooms on the top floor of the house were used as staff accommodation, Mrs Mac, the Housekeeper, and John, the Butler, had each retired to their respective rooms for the night. Outside in the cobblestoned Clock Court, all was peaceful. And there was nobody else but the housekeeper and the butler in the house, which was locked and bolted. In the small hours, a terrible scream woke Mrs Mac and John, both of whom leapt from their beds. John ran down the corridor towards the housekeeper’s room calling, ‘It’s alright, Mrs Mac, I’m coming!’ Within seconds, he met Mrs Mac, who in turn was running towards his room, calling ‘I’m here, John, I’m coming’. As neither of them had screamed out, who in that otherwise empty house had?
In your opinion, do you see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family finding Apartment 1A to be truly “their home?”
Because of its location, especially the royal residences within the KP complex, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren around three internal courtyards, the palace is very much a quiet and, above all, private ‘oasis’, in the midst of the busy, thriving, cosmopolitan area that is Kensington. As a royal palace and especially as the home of several members of the royal family (the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and, of course, any minute now, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), the palace complex is protected by a sophisticated security system, as well as being patrolled by a permanent police presence. So, in answer to your question, Apartment 1A will certainly be ‘home’ to William and Kate in the same way that it was to Princess Margaret. As I have often said in interviews and in other articles that I have written, when you are inside KP it’s hard to believe you are in the centre of London with Kensington High Street just at the bottom of the drive. It’s an ideal location and the Cambridges will love living there.