Buckingham Palace East Wing opened for tours by King Charles III


LONDON — No, you can’t wave from the balcony. But for the first time, paying visitors can peek at the rooms behind that famous focal point where British royals gather during coronations, weddings and birthday parades.

Starting this month, the Royal Collection Trust is expanding its guided tours of Buckingham Palace and offering access to the East Wing, which includes a hallway lined with paintings by the likes of Thomas Gainsborough, a yellow drawing room decorated with Chinese porcelain and the “centre room” that leads to that famous balcony.

It’s part of an ever-so-slight opening of royal residences — and perhaps an acknowledgment that taxpayers have contributed $474 million to spiffy up a palace where the royals don’t actually live.

King Charles III is “very much wanting to open up the royal residences,” Nicola Turner Inman, a Royal Collection curator, told the BBC.

“The king is concerned because there’s a huge amount of taxpayer money spent on refurbishing the palace for a decade, and for that very reason, people need to see what’s being spent on it,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty Magazine, which covers the royals.

Tours of the East Wing are being conducted on a trial basis. The tickets, which cost $96, were all snapped up within hours of going on sale in April.

“As with all things royal, the change is gradual,” Little said. But he suggested that those running the residences seemed “more commercially savvy” in recent years. “There’s clearly quite a bit of income to generate there, so changes have been significant since the king became king,” he said.

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Also this month, Balmoral Castle, the Scottish retreat beloved by the late Queen Elizabeth II, began offering access to previously closed-off areas at a cost of $129 for basic entry or $193 with afternoon tea. Tickets sold out within 24 hours.

The Sandringham estate, where the royals gather at Christmas, has started hosting large-scale concerts.

Some critics say the public should be allowed into Buckingham Palace free.

“This is a public building. They’re charging £75 for a tour. We spend over £345m a year on the royals and are currently spending hundreds of millions on palace renovations. This is scandalous,” Graham Smith, founder of the anti-monarchy group Republic, wrote on social media.

The royals have access to many castles, palaces and “cottages” dotted around the country. Some residences — such as Balmoral and Sandringham — they own outright and have been passed down through generations. But others are part of the Crown Estate, a collection of land holdings originating from the Norman Conquest in 1066, which is managed in modern times by the government, with profits going to the state treasury.

Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace are among the Crown Estate properties that include some paid public access. But Royal Lodge, where disgraced Prince Andrew lives with his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, and Frogmore Cottage, the former home of Prince Harry and Meghan, are off-limits to the public.

Buckingham Palace first opened to the public in the summer months of 1993, after a fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle and funds were needed to help with repairs.

It is unclear whether Charles will live in the 775-room palace after the 10-year renovation is completed in 2027.

Buckingham Palace still serves as an administrative headquarters for the monarchy. Charles goes there for meetings, receptions and state functions. But he broke with the previous five monarchs in choosing not to move in. Instead, he and Queen Camilla have remained at Clarence House, the five-bedroom white stucco mansion where they have lived together for 20 years.

The East Wing of Buckingham Palace was added during the reign of Queen Victoria, who wanted more room for her expanding family. (She had nine children.)

The construction was financed by the sale of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, which was once George IV’s seaside retreat. George loved Asian art and design, and many of the contents of the pavilion were hauled up to London, including exquisite Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, oversaw the decoration of the East Wing. It was Albert who suggested the addition of a balcony.



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