The Enchanted Palace
Presented by Dr Joanna Marschner, Senior Curator, Historic Royal Palaces
Following the death of Princess Margaret, the Queen bequeathed 30 rooms and 3 gardens to Historic Royal Palaces. This meant lots of the valuable paintings and other objects had to be stored away for safe-keeping during the restoration and building works, and only State Apartments remained open, but largely empty. But restoration meant there was an opportunity to install things like a lift and other modern facilities in the palace which had not been possible before (budget £12m).
Main assets were felt to be the local community, the workforce and the collections. Because of the nature of the ongoing work, a route around the museum would change over the period of the restoration, so they decided to work with that, and look for something that would make this unimportant.
Dr Marschner discovered a company based in Cornwall, Wildworks, who she worked with to create a magical transformation. From their website, here:
“Independent charity Historic Royal Palaces is undertaking a £12 million major project called 'Welcome to Kensington – a palace for everyone' to transform and re-present Kensington Palace by 2012.
While this work is being carried out, the charity has invited us to cast a WILDWORKS spell over the palace, creating a mysterious and atmospheric world for visitors to explore, and bringing the hidden stories of the historic royal residence dramatically to life.
In the sumptuous State Apartments, leading fashion designers Vivienne Westwood, William Tempest, Stephen Jones, Boudicca, Aminaka Wilmont and illustrator / set designer Echo Morgan, will each create spectacular installations in collaboration with WILDWORKS artists, taking inspiration from Kensington Palace and the princesses who once lived there - Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana.”
They discovered that the room warders were a wonderful resource, mostly desperate (46 out of 50 staff) to talk to visitors. Two or three professional actors worked with the front of house team, along with range of artists and designers on the project. FOH team (no w called Expert Explainers) were involved from the beginning, given voice coaching, acting training and all the palace community were involved in making things, and telling stories. Audio guides are now not used, as staff are highly motivated and involved, and have blossomed as lots of hidden talents emerged.
This approach has broken all targets, with significant audiences of 24-34 yrs, those families with young children, and other groups who never normally visit – ie has reached out to more audiences than before. Have been open in the evening for first time, getting 700 people (this year on 3 Fridays in May, June, July and Peter the Wild Boy’s Ball in August).
Response from visitors has been polarized with 83% saying they really like it, 7% really didn’t like it, and 10% thinking it was ok. From 2012 she said it won’t be exactly the same, but they won’t revert to how it was before – will try to find out more.
The ‘Greeters’ have a policy of telling visitors that it will be different from anything they’ve seen before and give them the opportunity to not pay and come in to be disappointed. If a visitor has come to see a particular work of art eg a painting, they can be informed when it is due to be restored in the palace.