Buckingham Palace begins clear-out before major refit

Hundreds of items will have to be moved from more than 200 rooms over six floors of the east wing as part of a £369 million refit to upgrade Queen Elizabeth II’s London residence (AFP pic)

LONDON: Thousands of works of art, clocks, chandeliers and furniture have begun being removed from Buckingham Palace as part of a major refit, royal officials said Friday.

More than 200 rooms over six floors of the east wing, which faces out onto The Mall, will be emptied over the next six months to prepare for the replacement of ageing electrics and pipework.

Objects being removed include 200 paintings, 40 chandeliers, 100 mirrors, 30 clocks, 200 books, 40 historic textiles and 560 items of everyday furniture, from beds to desks and chairs.

It is part of a £369 million (US$481 million), 10-year project to upgrade Queen Elizabeth II’s London residence, which officials fear is at risk of a “potentially catastrophic” fire.

Some of the most urgent work has already been carried out, notably removing 3,000 metres of Indian rubber cabling, which has become cracked, leaving the electrical wires exposed.

The rest of the renovations will be carried out wing by wing, although the State Rooms will be done incrementally to ensure they remain open for formal banquets and public tours.

The queen’s private apartments in the North Wing are being left until last, to around 2025, when the 92-year-old will have to move to another part of the building.

“The queen is immensely pragmatic, she wants to stay in the palace. She said, let me know where you would like me to go,” a senior royal official told reporters.

Her husband Prince Philip, who was involved in the repairs of Windsor Castle after a major fire there in 1992, has been keeping a close eye on the project, the official said.

So has her son and heir Prince Charles, and it is possible that he will be king before the renovations are finished.

There will be little sign of the works from outside the palace, although a temporary structure is being built on the south side of the palace forecourt as a base for contractors.

Officials insist it will be “business as usual” during the works — with any crashing and banging held off for state occasions — but stress the programme is necessary to keep the building functioning.

“This project will address the need to overhaul the palace’s essential services, some of which have not been updated since the 1950s, and make it fit for purpose for the next 50 years,” said the master of the household, Tony Johnstone-Burt.

The works are being funded by increasing the share the royals receive from the Crown Estate, which manages royal properties, from 15% to 25% over the period.