Privy at last to secrets of a modern Wolsey

The controversially refurbished grace and favour residence of the Lord Chancellor was opened to the public for the first time last night. Alex Watson, of Third Sector magazine, was among the guests
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The Independent Online
IT WAS like Fort Knox. In all, there were six separate security checks before we were finally let in, making something of a mockery of Lord Irvine of Lairg's welcoming remarks that "surely it was better for these beautiful pictures and sculptures to be here for people to enjoy". It hardly felt like an open house.

We have all heard enough about the place, so it was about time we had a look. But, after all the hype, the reality was rather mediocre. It does not resemble a Brookside Close semi, so in that sense Lord Irvine was correct: the local DIY might not have been appropriate for the refurbishment. But, equally, there was no sense of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling decadence. Rather, the walls are panelled in a simply carved light oak rising above head height, at which point the infamous wallpaper begins. Strategically too high to touch or brush against, it is two shades of textured guacamole green, with a bold floral design. It is the thing that commends the room the most. But is it worth pounds 59,000? I'd have to think long and hard.

The carpet resembles standard-issue officialdom and, perhaps tellingly, when a tray of hummus-filled cherry tomatoes fell to the floor, no gasps were heard, no waitress beheaded. In fact, our host, Lord Irvine, looked relaxed in his surroundings.

The office's most striking aspect is the art. Three marble statues encroach on the room - a shepherd with horn, a woman bathing and a father and son with bearskin. All sit on grey fibreglass stands with inset lighting which verges on the tacky. Two enormous naval paintings, loans from the Greenwich Maritime Museum, grace the walls, dominating the room.

Despite Lord Irvine's plan to open the apartments, a number of passages were blocked with `No Entry' signs - so there was no chance to see the three pounds 8,000 beds or the pounds 10,000 dining table. But, worst of all, requesting the Ladies on my departure, I was greeted with no Wolsey's throne - no pounds 3,000 ornate Victorian box-style water closet with oak surround - but instead a plastic loo seat which could have come from B&Q.

Maybe he lied.

Artistic licence, page 2 Pandora, page 5