The Queen has a whopping £369 million ($514 million) budget to refurbish her London pad — a figure that may seem excessive when she spends most of her time at Windsor Castle these days. This week, the Queen's royal accounts for the past financial year were published, revealing £31.6 million ($44 million) had been spent on the renovation in the past 12 months, up from £16.4 million ($23 million) the year before.
But there are some pretty good reasons for the hefty bill — Buckingham Palace is more than a home; it's the British monarchy's HQ.
The official London residence of UK sovereigns since 1837, it has 775 rooms, including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. Today the palace is the monarch's main office and function space. And the fact she still uses it makes it one of the biggest tourist attractions in London.
In normal times, more than 50,000 people also visit the property every year as invited guests to various state banquets, lunches, receptions and garden parties. It's also the instantly recognizable centerpiece of key national celebrations and commemorations, like the Queen's Platinum Jubilee next summer.
Visitors haven't been allowed into any royal residences for more than a year, leaving a £9.4 million ($13 million) hole in the palace finances, the newly published royal statements also revealed. To put it in perspective, that's half of what pre-pandemic tourism to palaces used to earn for the Queen's coffers, which was £20.2 million ($28 million) between 2019 and 2020.
But the upside has been that the refurb has been able to continue unhindered and they are now ahead of schedule. Let's take you on a quick tour...
The Grand Entrance, where visitors are usually greeted when they drive in from the front, is currently being used to receive building supplies.
From the Grand Entrance, you go up the Grand Staircase to the State Apartments. Let's just say they're not ready for us quite yet. This is a 10-year program of major works for the aging historic home.
At the top of the stairs, you enter the Picture Gallery, where key pieces from the Queen's priceless art collection usually hang. Scaffolding takes pride of place these days as they replace the roof. A closeup of the Picture Gallery roof shows how vulnerable it had become.
Off the Picture Gallery is the Centre Room, where the floor has been lifted. Much of the renovations throughout the palace will ultimately be invisible to sightseers because they involve replacing electrics and plumbing that were installed in the 1950s. The overhaul was approved by the government back in 2017 to ensure it was fit for purpose for years to come and to mitigate the risk of possible fire or water damage.
Many remember the fire that broke out at Windsor in 1992. A faulty spotlight in Queen Victoria's Private Chapel quickly ignited a blaze that would destroy 115 rooms and cause millions in damage. Astonishingly, only two artworks were lost in the incident.
Back in London, the first major restoration at Buckingham Palace since the end of World War II has revealed something of a makeshift time capsule. Newspapers and cigarette boxes from that era have been found as the floorboards have been taken up.
The East Wing — which faces The Mall — is having new elevators put in to make the building more accessible and energy-efficient. Rooms have been completely stripped of flooring and furniture and thousands of artworks and artifacts have had to be removed to allow this to happen.
Despite the ongoing construction, the Queen is still using parts of the palace that haven't been taken over by builders. This week, she met the Prime Minister there for the pair's first face-to-face weekly audience since March 2020. While the Queen isn't expected to return to the palace full time just yet, things are returning to some sense of normality, and we can expect her to use her administrative hub in London more frequently in the months to come.
The Queen's treasurer, Sir Michael Stevens, justified the increased spending on the palace refurbishments during the pandemic, saying: "Obviously as we look ahead to 2022 we have the Platinum Jubilee celebrations to look forward to and all our works plans for Buckingham Palace are designed to ensure the Palace can play a significant part in those celebrations, such as garden parties and of course the balcony appearance at Trooping the Colour."