Visitors find gilt surroundings fit for the Queen: Will Bennett asks commoners at the gates if the Windsors should move

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The Independent Online
IN THE MALL yesterday searching for supporters of Marjorie Mowlam's plan to sell off Buckingham Palace and move the Queen to a new People's Palace was like looking for atheists at an evangelical rally.

To be fair to Ms Mowlam, MP for Redcar in Cleveland and Labour spokeswoman on national heritage, these were people who had waited for more than an hour to pay pounds 8 each for entry to the palace, then queued for a second time to go in, next to road workmen with deafening pneumatic drills.

They were either royalists of unswerving loyalty or tourists relentlessly determined to see everything London has to offer. The first day of Buckingham Palace's 1994 public opening was too much for them to resist.

Following last year's successful summer season at the palace when 377,000 visitors in 56 days raised pounds 2.2m for the restoration of fire damage to Windsor Castle, the palace doors were thrown open again yesterday.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper decided to mark this by inviting Ms Mowlam to give her views on the future of the Royal homes. The result achieved more publicity than any palace press release.

Ms Mowlam wants to sell off Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle to an organisation such as the National Trust and build a new 'People's Palace' funded by a bonds issue. This would be 'modern, representative of the age we live in'.

Out would go the traditional palatial gilt surrounds and plush red furnishings and in would come Terence Conran kitchens with 'dried herbs and fine English wines'. In dynastic terms the House of Windsor would become the House of Laura Ashley.

None of this found favour with the queues outside the palace yesterday. Anne Waller, 49, from Fareham, Hampshire, an ardent royalist, said: 'It's stupid, a horrifying idea.'

Keith Parker, 54, from Colchester, Essex, added: 'There would be another civil war if they tried to do that and I would be on the side of the royalists.'

Foreign tourists were bemused. Bo Kogerfelt, 48, from Kalmar, Sweden, said: 'It's not a good idea. Why does she want to do it? Our king in Sweden lives in his castle in Stockholm so why shouldn't your Queen live here?'

John Pucinski, 53, from Illinois, United States, said: 'You've got to be crazy to suggest something like that. The whole reason I have come to see it is that the Queen still lives here. I would not have paid pounds 24 for myself, my wife and my son if she didn't live here any more.'

Business at the souvenir shops, officially called Royal Collection Enterprises and hoping to make pounds 1m this year, might have been less brisk yesterday if visitors had not felt that they were in the Royal home.

Michael Morris, 49, from Birmingham, said: 'I have just spent pounds 100 on ties, china and other things. But there would be no point in buying it if the Royal Family were not still here. I wouldn't spend this kind of money at a National Trust house.'

(Photograph omitted)