London Diary: Buckingham Palace ‘rip-off’

Visitors say the experience for which they paid through their nose (£16.50 for an adult) bore no resemblance to the marketing hype

Palace Garden
Palace Garden
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Hasan Suroor

A picnic in the gardens of Buckingham Palace is considered a high point of English summer, and heavily marketed as a must-do tourist "experience". And mostly, visitors have kept up the pretence that they loved it.

But it seems that finally the emperor's clothes have started to wear off; and people are beginning to talk about it. Online review sites have been flooded with criticism of almost every aspect of the tour, starting with the gardens which left them completely underwhelmed.

Visitors say the experience for which they paid through their nose (£16.50 for an adult) bore no resemblance to the marketing hype. The Palace website touts it as a chance to soak up the “beauty and calm of this walled oasis”. Instead, they found that the large parts of the grounds, including the rose garden and wildflower meadow, were out of bounds for them unless they bought another ticket for a guided tour.

“Beware of this complete rip-off! I paid £16.50 for access to the gardens hoping to laze around, see beautiful flowers and trees. What I experienced was first a long queue to security check and then seeing a piece of a lawn surrounded by standing stewards watching your every step and ropes segregating rest of the garden,” read one review on Trip Advisor.

Another described it as “totally underwhelming” urging people to “save your money and instead enjoy the much more interesting pubic royal parks - for free”.

Others called it a “poor value for money” accusing the Palace of using the tour as a “money-making machine”. Many had a go at the “expensive tat” sold at gift shops on Palace grounds. They said they felt “robbed by the royals”.

Adding insult to their injury is a strictly-enforced ban on drinking alcohol on the Palace grounds.

A British picnic without booze? What an un-British idea!

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Johnson off drinks, really?

Boris Johnson has had many strong women in his life, including his former wife of more than 25 years Marina Wheeler, a high-profile barrister, but none apparently more controlling than his present spouse, Carrie. Besides allegedly wielding undue influence over her husband’s policy decisions and staff appointments, she has been able to rein in some of his lifestyle excesses.

London Diary: Buckingham Palace ‘rip-off’

So, the man has been forced to give up drinking in “solidarity” with his pregnant wife who has been advised by doctors to stay off alcohol during her pregnancy. He has announced he would not drink until she gives birth at Christmas to their second child—a long haul for a man who has often boasted of drinking an “awful lot” at lunch without it affecting his work.

No wonder, Johnson’s pledge has met with scepticism. He took a similar vow two years ago saying he would not touch alcohol until “we get Brexit done” but was then photographed drinking whiskey on a visit to a distillery in Scotland. More recently he faced criticism after being pictured drinking in a pub in breach of his own government’s Covid social-distancing rules.

By the way, Johnson is not alone in feeling the hand of a dominating spouse on his shoulder. Prince Harry too went off drinks to keep the company of his wife Meghan Markle when she was pregnant.

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NYT’s ‘cartoon’ Britain

The New York Times’ quirky reporting of Britain has got a lot of Brits into a lather. They have accused it of peddling old cultural stereotypes to humour its American readers back home.

The paper’s favourite obsessions include digs at British weather (a “land of drizzle and fog”), food (“boiled meat and watery vegetables”), and the Brits’ love of warm beer and gardening. If NYT was the only paper you read, you can be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing to Britain beyond its denizens’ eccentricities.

The Times, London, called such descriptions cartoonish which, it said, belonged to the realms of comic books. It was “surprising to find such caricatures retailed as news in a prominent periodical”.

Its advice to NYT Editors was to “cheer up a bit and celebrate some of the good things in Britain, weather aside”.

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Boris watch

Notoriously unpunctual Boris Johnson has finally hit on a solution: he has put his watch forward 12 minutes to prevent him from being late. But will it work?

The answer is “no”, according to those who have tried it. The Times’s “obsessively punctual” Janice Turner tried it with her children: “When my sons were at school, I had the kitchen clock set eight minutes fast in an effort to get them there on time, and I sometimes tell my husband our holiday flight is half an hour earlier than the truth just to avoid a stressfully tight journey to the airport. It doesn’t work: my paranoia is now factored in.”

My own experience has been something similar.

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And, lastly, next time someone sends you a “skull and crossbones” emoji, don’t take it amiss. Apparently, it signifies: “I’m laughing so hard, I’m dying.” It replaces the old-fashioned “Lol” (laughing out loud) which it took me years to decipher.

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