Kensington Palace became the focus of the nation’s mourning in 1997 after the death of Princess Diana, its gilded gates and surrounding gardens flooded with floral tributes. Today the palace has opened its doors in celebration of its history and the seven princesses who have lived there.
The exhibition, called the Enchanted Palace, is so peculiar it is as if you've stepped into Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland.' It is a mixture of gothic fashion, art and live performance, telling the not-so-fairytale stories of Mary II, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana.
Combining designs by Vivienne Westwood and hats by Stephen Jones; tall trees growing inside the walls; disembodied voices; surprising light and sound installations; and storytellers from Wildworks acting group, the multi-sensory display is a truly surreal experience.
Visitors aren’t told which room relates to which princess but the objects, clothes and clues soon make it clear. From the tall, plumped-up mattresses and oversized toys in Victoria’s room to the suffering prostrate figure in the Room of Royal Sorrows which tells of Mary II’s death from smallpox.
Wildworks producer Bill Mitchell said: “We have found the stories of the palace incredibly inspiring, they’re like true fairytales. Like the rebellious princess who was so universally loved that when she died in childbirth London ran out of black mourning fabric.”
Other tales include the feral boy kept as a pet; the young princess who wept for three days when she was told she had to marry a man twice her age; and the friends who quarrelled and thereby changed the fortunes of two great families and the map of Europe.
The exhibition opens today and runs until January 2010. www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace