Why is it however many millions of pairs of socks I buy I never seem to have any? They just disappear. For me, socks are like sex. Tons of it about, but I never seem to get any.
When you hear the words Prince Regent, does your mind, like mine, immediately jump to this quote? No? What, you haven’t seen Blackadder The Third? Well, you’re missing out. Hugh Laurie does an excellent job, portraying the extravagant Prince George Augustus Frederick, forced to reign, as his dad, Mad King George, was, well… mad.
Was he, in fact, mad? According to the most recent research, King George III may have been bi-polar, and probably not the ideal ruler. Tellingly, he is perhaps best known for losing America. So while the king stayed at his little palace in Kew Gardens to recuperate, our Prince Regent was forced to reign. That is, he mostly left the reigning bit to his ministers, as he was more into dandying about. Lots of that dandying was done in Brighton.
Young George was married to Caroline. Sadly though, the wife of his life did not equal the love of his life. And divorce just wasn’t on. Such was the sit for royals back in the day. However, he did have Maria by his side, who was the love of his life. He wanted to marry her, and actually did, but in secret. She was Catholic, you see, and again, that just wasn’t on. In fact, not only wasn’t it on, it was against the law, according to the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
In his will, he left all his ‘worldly property . . . to my Maria Fitzherbert… the wife of my heart and soul‘. George signed the will only 3 days after his (formal) wife gave birth to his daughter, his only child. Make of that what you will.
How do I solve a problem like Maria?
Well, perhaps he didn’t phrase it quite like that. But how to spend more time with her? Get a place in Brighton perhaps?
Now, back in George’s day, Brighton was a happening place, and ever so fashionable. We’re talking fine dining, gambling galore, theatre and other diversions; in short, life in the fast lane. And so, after renting a little farmhouse here for a while, George decided to get himself a seaside cabin – now known as the Royal Pavilion.
And this is where I’m at. I’ve been inside this ostentatiously opulent building before – 9 years ago, with my kids along. We all thought it a fabulous place, the dazzling colours alone… but my then 8-y-o had other things she wanted to do (looking for fossils at the beach was a fave past-time back then), so I couldn’t linger.
Photography at the Royal Pavilion
Before you join me in a wee exploration of this oh so deliciously over-the-top seaside cabin: a word on photography. Three words, actually: not.allowed.anywhere. This isn’t entirely unusual for museums and the like. But unless we’re talking about fragile items which can somehow be damaged, I can’t really see a good reason for this.
I was keen to revisit the Pavilion for a better look and to write about it here. However, I made it clear that this would only happen if I were allowed to take photos. As you know, except on the very rare occasion that we allow guest posts, all photos on this blog are taken by us. Stock or professional photos taken for marketing purposes have no place here, as it compromises the personal aspect. Might as well just google.
As a condition for being allowed to snap away here at the pavilion, I had Caroline from Marketing along to make sure I didn’t snap the non-snappable (mostly items on loan from other palaces). Fortunately, Caroline was very interesting, and she even took a pic of me on this fabulous red sofa in the Saloon.
No kids along this time, then. Just me, Caroline, an audio-guide and all the time in the world. And you, of course. Come along, let’s wander through this plush palace together.
We start in the Long Gallery, all pretty in pink (and no photos allowed, even with my temp permit). But here’s a bit of wallpaper at least, taken by the stairway.
The Banqueting Room
The first proper room is the Banqueting Room. It’s enormous, with a long table decked out in crystal, gold and silver. Brightly coloured walls, a large fireplace at either end and Chinese figures on the walls. We’ll do a little detour through the kitchen and come back to see this magnificent space from the other side.
The Great Kitchen and the Table Decker Room
George’s kitchen was the most technologically advanced of its time. I like it. It’s spacious, and it looks easy to keep clean and orderly.
At the time, kitchens were often far removed from everything else, for the potential fire hazard. However, George was proud of his. He brought his guests here and even had dinner in the kitchen once, with a red carpet covering the bare flagstones.
Four cast iron columns soar up towards the very high ceiling, so designed to let the fierce heat escape. The columns are disguised as palm trees.
A touch of the orient there. In fact, the entire pavilion is Chinese on the inside, and as you can see from the top photo, Indian on the outside. You’d think George had been to India and/or China. Not so. In fact, it’s all a Western interpretation of Eastern art and styles. Great Britain was truly (geopolitically) great in those days. His dad might have recently lost the colonies, but George probably considered himself king of the world anyway, with the accompanying right to define what Chinese and Indian meant.
Between the kitchen and the dining room is the table decker room.
Now, the table decker was an artist; it was all about the decorating. The theatre of eating was perhaps more important than the actual food, although one would assume that too was top notch. He would frequently poach chefs from other houses. I imagine that might have made him a bit unpopular. But the king is the king, or in this case, Regent.
A menu from a banquet George held for the Russian Grand Duke Nicolas in 1817 comprises 9 courses and 121 dishes! (Although I’m getting 124, not even counting the Platters after the Fish… – yeah yeah, geeky, I know).
Dinners started at 1800 and lasted for many hours. It was service à la française, i.e. all the dishes were set out on the table (as opposed to service à la russe, in case you were curious, where one dish is served at a time).
Seating was also in the French style, with men and women seated next to one another. Good dalliance potential, for George and everyone else. He liked to sit in the middle of the table. So do I. To pick and choose which conversation you want to join, even hop from one to the other.
After dinner, the men remained at table to discuss… men’s issues, while the ladies withdrew to the gallery next door, a calm green room with a luscious pink carpet and giltwood furniture, with columns disguised as palm trees here as well. The men would then join them a bit later – for drinks and card games. Though, also like me, George preferred conversation to cards. He also liked to stay up late, and the parties frequently lasted until 2 or 3 am.
The Saloon is the most recently restored hall in the Pavilion, redecorated back to all its 1823 glory. There‘s a special exhibition area showcasing the restoration process, if you’re interested in the details. The room is round, and in deep reds and golds. Beautifully extravagant. I’m unsure if George used it for anything other than showing off.
The Music Room
For every room I wander into, I think: this is my favourite. The Music Room is no exception. Before I enter, I spot a sign saying please remove stiletto heels before walking on the carpet. Concerts and the like were often held here, and still are today. Well, I’m in trainers, so no worries there. Though I would have preferred to be barefoot. The dusty blue carpet with Chinese pattern is soft to the touch.
The entire room is amazing. I’m surrounded with reds and golds here as well. Chinese motifs decorate the walls, dragons in particular. In front of me, organ pipes, and above, a gilded domed ceiling with an enormous chandelier in the centre, surrounded by 8 smaller ones, all shaped like lotus flowers. I’d like one, please. Would have to be one of the smaller, though. I think that’s about all my sitting room could handle.
In 1975 an arson attack destroyed much of this beautiful room. Sacrilege! 12 years later, a great storm wreaked further havoc. It took almost 15 years to restore.
As you can see, on this Friday afternoon in May, I’m also surrounded with people. 400 000 visit every year.
George was musical. I imagine every lady and gentleman were required to play at least one instrument in the late 18th century. Not still the case, is it… it’s more about football nowadays (or in my country, skiing).
Don’t know if George was into footie, but he did play the piano and the cello, and had a great passion for music. Rossini (of comic opera Barber of Seville fame) performed in this very music room in 1823. I think I might have liked to join a few of George’s parties. The banquet would be a bit overwhelming, but the music! And the conversation!
Servants and beds
Behind the public rooms is the secret world of servants. Corridors linking one end of the building with the other meant George never had to see or deal with them.
Further along is George’s bed. The one he died in, albeit at Windsor rather than here. Normally, his apartments were upstairs, but George was very fond of food, drink and the good life, and became a bit of a butterball. Fat, to be blunt. Too fat to walk upstairs. At the time of his death, he weighed more than 150 kg.
The library and its accompanying anteroom are next. These rooms are darker, more sombre, reflective of his later years, after his parents and many of his friends were lost to death. He was now king with heavier responsibilities on his shoulders. Also, his health was deteriorating.
Wandering upstairs, I see the royal bedrooms. There’s George’s apartments (minus the bed), and his niece, Victoria’s, with lovely hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper, but otherwise rather dark and gloomy, possibly because the curtains are shut. Fitting really, as Vicki didn’t like it here. Unlike George, she wasn’t a party princess, and wanted more privacy than the Pavilion (and Brighton) could afford, so she moved on to the Isle of Wight instead.
the people are very indiscreet and troublesome here really, which make this place quite a prison
Queen Victoria in a letter to her aunt
I prefer these brightly coloured rooms – bedrooms of the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence, the king’s brothers. This bright chrome yellow wallpaper decorated with dragons and birds and phoenixes was George’s favourite. Mine too… (noticing a somewhat disturbing pattern here; will go home and count my socks.)
Waking up in this sunny world, all I’d want to do is jump out of bed in the morning.
Hats, hats everywhere
Have you noticed the proliferation of slightly surreal hats all over the place here?
Yes, this is, in fact, a hat
Just now (spring 2019), there’s an exhibition of Stephen Jones’ creations, hat-maker to stars of various kinds. Hats here, there and everywhere, many inspired by the whimsical pavilion itself. Boy George’s hat (rather fittingly, I think), Lady Gaga’s, Posh Spice’s.
In this ocean of flamboyant head gear, the little unpretentious beige one here on the left grabs my attention. With a touch of melancholy, I notice it’s Diana’s.
When leaving the pavilion, you pass a gift shop. Business is the name of the game in this world we live in, after all. This giftshop has some very cool items; I want this golden palm tree. However, I’m assured it is not fit to fly, neither as carry-on or checked. Will I have to remove the backseat of my car and return by ferry? We shall see.
It is impossible for any one to deny that such a thing would be spiffing in the very highest possible degree.
George Birmingham in Priscilla’s Spies
Disclosure: I’m in Brighton as part of a collaborative campaign between Sparkling Happiness (my lovely blogger collective), Visit Britain Norway and Visit Brighton. As ever, I retain the right to write anything I want – or nothing at all; my bit of cyberspace, my rules.