The lace gown that Kate Middleton wore for her wedding to Prince William is the centerpiece of Buckingham Palace’s annual open house -- fitted on a headless mannequin that Queen Elizabeth II pronounced “horrid.”
For 17.50 pounds ($28.38) per adult ticket, you can join the hordes of visitors herded through the palace rooms to gape at the dress, the shoes, the cake, a selection of Faberge eggs, and choice Old Master paintings in a Disneyland-like tour that may entice as many as 500,000 visitors between now and Oct. 3.
Buckingham Palace has linked its summer exhibition to the April 29 nuptials to raise cash for the royal collections while the Queen is on holiday. The wedding is good business: It could add as much as 620 million pounds to the U.K. economy this year in tourism revenue and food and drink sales, according to Verdict Research, a retail analysis unit of Datamonitor Plc.
“It’s horrid, isn’t it? Horrible,” Her Majesty said within earshot of the television cameras as she previewed the ghostly wedding-gown dummy late last month, her own Cartier tiara suspended over it.
Visitors don’t see it that way.
“I think it’s beautiful,” says mother of two Charlotte Philips, as she stoops to peel her bored five-year-old off the carpeted floor. “This is what drew me.”
“It’s something my eight-year-old will remember, the way I remember seeing Princess Diana’s dress when I was 11,” she says.
The tour weaves through the throne room, ballroom and dining room, and into the gardens. There, after spending more cash in the temporary cafe and boutique, visitors can take a stroll along Her Majesty’s private pond.
The first highlight is the palace throne room. Beneath a tall velvet canopy are the red armchair-like thrones of the Queen and Prince Philip. Placards of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smiling on that very spot make the connection with the wedding.
Next, you shuffle past a console topped with a fake arrangement of roses, peonies, and hortensias. Above the faux bouquet is a real Canaletto of Venetian gondolas bobbing in the Grand Canal.
Other pictorial gems include Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” (1662-5), showing a young lady at her virginal, and Rembrandt’s portrait of the rosy-cheeked “Agatha Bas” (1641), whose left thumb grips the corner of the frame as if she were preparing to climb out.
Visitors are then led into a dimly lit tunnel to ogle vitrines containing the world’s finest Faberge collection: bejeweled eggs, miniature instruments, plants, and animals.
“Look at that little frog!” squeals one visitor at a toad-shaped desk seal given to Prince Charles for his 1981 wedding.
The dress display is the climax of the tour. The gown’s designer -- Sarah Burton of the house of Alexander McQueen -- describes on video how her creation was “a real feat of engineering.”
To stress the difficulty, framed strips of beaded lace hang nearby, and action shots of the dress are beamed on a plasma screen: You see footage of the wedding, ending, in slow motion, with the royal kiss.
In the ballroom, the gown, perched on a podium under a gauze covering, looks surprisingly small. Beside it are Kate’s lace pumps, her earrings, and a replica of her bouquet, which included a flower named Sweet William (which symbolizes gallantry).
Isn’t 17.50 pounds a high price for a wedding-gown exhibition?
“Definitely not,” says David Horne, a 20-year-old chef from Middlesbrough, England. “You see all these rooms, and it’s good value for money, really.”
The next stop is the state dining room with an eight-tiered traditional fruit wedding cake. The base is from the original, and bears the crooked carving mark of Kate and Will’s knife.
On the palace terrace is a temporary tent cafe where tea, sandwiches and scones are served. One set of visitors appears to have bought into the fairy tale.
“It looks like those two people love each other,” says 78-year-old Mo Anderson, a Minnesota realtor on the tour with his wife, daughter and grandson. “You could just see it in their eyes.”
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts & leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)