Buckingham Palace East Wing Opens for Tours by King Charles III

LONDON — No, you can’t wave from the balcony. But for the first time, paying visitors can peek into the rooms behind the famous centerpiece where British royals gather for coronations, weddings and birthday parades.

From this month, the Royal Collection Trust is expanding its tours of Buckingham Palace, offering access to the East Wing, including a corridor lined with paintings by the likes of Thomas Gainsborough, a Yellow Drawing Room decorated with Chinese porcelain, and the ‘Central Room’ leading to the famous balcony.

It’s part of a small-scale reopening of royal residences, and perhaps also an acknowledgement that taxpayers have contributed £369 million ($474 million) to the refurbishment of a palace where the royals don’t actually live.

King Charles III “is very keen to open up the royal residences,” Nicola Turner Inman, curator of the Royal Collection, told the BBC.

“The King is concerned because a huge amount of taxpayers’ money has been spent on renovating the palace over a decade, and for that reason people need to see what is being spent on it,” said Joe Little, editor-in-chief of Majesty Magazine, which covers the royals.

Tours of the East Wing are being offered on a trial basis. Tickets, which cost £75 ($96), all sold out within hours of going on sale in April.

“As with all royal affairs, the change is gradual,” Little said. But he suggested that those running the residences have appeared “more commercially astute” in recent years. “There is clearly quite a bit of income to be made, so the changes have been significant since the King became King,” he said.

Also this month, Balmoral Castle, the Scottish retreat beloved by the late Queen Elizabeth II, began offering access to previously closed areas for a price of £100 ($129) for basic admission or £150 ($193) with afternoon tea. Tickets sold out within 24 hours.

The Sandringham estate, where the royal family gathers at Christmas, now hosts large-scale concerts.

Jill Mallett, 62, was among those who visited Buckingham Palace on Thursday afternoon. She said allowing wider access to royal residences was “a great idea”, allowing the public “a taste of what we’ve all paid for. It’s nice for everyone to see it, not just certain people.”

However, some critics complain that the public should be given free access to Buckingham Palace.

“This is a public building. They charge £75 to tour it. We spend over £345 million a year on the Royals and are currently spending hundreds of millions on palace renovations. This is outrageous,” Graham Smith, founder of the anti-monarchy group Republic, wrote on social media.

The royals have access to many castles, palaces and cottages across the country. Some residences — such as Balmoral and Sandringham — are owned outright, passed down through generations. But others are part of the Crown Estate, a collection of landed properties dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066 that is now managed by the British government, with profits going to the state coffers.

Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace are among the Crown Estate properties that offer partially paid public access. But Royal Lodge, where the disgraced Prince Andrew lives with his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, and Frogmore Cottage, the former home of Prince Harry and Meghan, are off-limits to the public.

Buckingham Palace first opened to the public in the summer months of 1993, after a fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle and funds were needed for repairs.

It is not yet clear whether Charles will live in the 775-room palace after a decade-long renovation is completed in 2027.

Buckingham Palace still serves as the administrative headquarters of the monarchy. Charles goes there for meetings, receptions and state functions. But he broke with the previous five monarchs by not moving there. Instead, he and Queen Camilla have remained at Clarence House, the five-bedroom, white stucco house where they have lived together for 20 years.

The East Wing of Buckingham Palace was added during the reign of Queen Victoria, who wanted more space for her growing family. (She had nine children.)

The construction was financed by the sale of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, once George IV’s seaside retreat. George was fond of Asian art and design, and many of the pavilion’s contents were transported to London, including beautiful Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, oversaw the decoration of the East Wing. It was Albert who suggested the addition of a balcony.

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