The Queen's home could be her castle

Moving stories: Speculation over switch from `austere' palace as Labour leader's loyalty to Mecca of fashionable left is in doubt
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The Independent Online
MARY BRAID and

DAVID LISTER

From footman to lady-in-waiting, it is the talk of the Royal Household; the Queen is to trade the austere and soulless Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle, her weekend retreat where the corgis run free.

Yesterday a Palace spokeswoman said rumours that restoration of the castle following the 1992 fire was being speeded up so the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh could shift their principal official residence were "complete speculation". Even with her grandson and heir within easier reach at nearby Eton, Majesty magazine was rather doubtful. But others in the know were not so sure.

"Anything is possible now the Queen is getting older," said Brian Hoey, author of the first official tourist guide to Buckingham Palace. "The palace has always been the office and Windsor home. Living in the palace is like being in a cross between a museum and the headquarters of IBM. Maybe the Queen is looking towards retirement. Windsor is rather a grand geriatric residential home."

A move to the country, some say, would make sense for the couple. The palace may be the capital's ultimate des res, boasting 500 rooms, a marvellous view from the front balcony and the largest private back garden in London but the Queen and Prince Philip have never hid their dislike of the place.

The Duke of Edinburgh compares residing at the palace to living above the shop. On the Queen's succession, Winston Churchill had to persuade her to move there. Previous generations of royals regretted Victoria's decision to make the palace HQ. Edward VII judged it draughty and Georges V and VI took up residence with equal reluctance.

Windsor, with its 1,000 rooms and the 5,000-acre Great Park, has that cosy feel the palace lacks, the current royals insist. Even the pounds 40m fire repair bill has not dampened the Queen's enthusiasm for the place. Neither has Windsor's position on the flight path to Heathrow. The 11th-century castle is double-glazed; when her neighbours applied for free sound-proofing the Queen put in her own successful application.

If a permanent move does take place, the royal living arrangements will not be revolutionised. The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace most Fridays at about 2pm and seldom returns until Monday afternoon. Her London residence is hardly likely to be sold. But if the unthinkable happened, Lorna Vestey, partner with upmarket estate agents Knight Frank and Rutley says the palace, bought by George III for pounds 28,000 in 1762, would be snapped up.

"It would bring pounds 200m plus," said Ms Vestey, who thinks the likeliest buyer would be from the Middle or Far East. The problem would be planning permission to change the property. "Can you imagine what the Holiday Inn would pay for it?" asked Mr Hoey.

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