Victoria's secrets: Future queen's dolls go on show

New exhibition to mark reopening of Kensington Palace

Dolls which Queen Victoria played with as a girl will go on display at her childhood home for the first time in a century when a new exhibition opens at Kensington Palace later this month.

Twelve dolls from a collection of 132 form part of a new permanent exhibition after months of restoration work on their delicate clothes by textile conservators for Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the charity that runs the palace. The young Victoria kept a detailed inventory of her toys, which had names inspired by people she had met or seen on stage.

Victoria Revealed features more than 300 objects linked to Victoria's life at Kensington Palace, where she was born in 1819. It draws on her diaries, sketches and letters and will be unveiled on 26 March, when the palace reopens after a £12m renovation that also includes a new presentation of the State Apartments.

While Britain's longest-reigning monarch is known for her 40 years of mourning Prince Albert, the exhibition also delves into her isolated upbringing. "I think visitors will be surprised Victoria was not just a fat lady in black who said, 'We are not amused'," said Deirdre Murphy, curator of collections at HRP.

Victoria grew up under the watchful eye of her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's friend, Sir John Conroy, who developed a strict educational regime that denied her contact with other children. It made for a lonely childhood.

But the exhibition shows that Victoria's passion for theatre, ballet and opera provided a fantasy escape and she sketched scenes from stage productions. The ballerina Marie Taglioni, after whom she named a number of her dolls and a horse, was one of her favourite performers.

On 1 July 1833, Victoria wrote: "After that was performed La Sylphide; Taglioni danced BEAUTIFULLY and looked LOVELY ... I was VERY MUCH AMUSED."

Other items include a gold heart-shaped locket containing a lock of hair from each of her parents, never before displayed in public, which she received on her first birthday.

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