In 1966, Terence Stamp moved into Albany, a warren of bachelor apartments, just off Piccadilly. Stamp was a 28-year-old cockney son of a tugboat pilot. He had become famous for starring in starring in films such as Billy Budd and Modesty Blaise. He was also dating top model Jean Shrimpton. As he unpacked his boxes in his fancy new flat he knew he’d arrived.
Albany started life in 1774 as a grand mansion on Piccadilly built for Viscount Melbourne. In 1802 it was expanded and converted into 69 apartments known as ‘sets’. They were for gentlemen only who had to adhere to a strict set of rules. Over the years they relaxed the rules and even allowed lady visitors in 1880. When Stamp arrived he willingly conformed to the rules. No whistling, no prostitutes, no noise, no pets, no children. No conversation along the passageways. He did rather flout the rule of no publicity.
He marvelled at the numerous famous people who’d lived there previously: Lord Byron with his parrot (presumably not classed as a pet), William Gladstone, Aldous Huxley, Lord Snowdon, not to mention its inclusion in fictitious works by Dickens and Oscar Wilde.
Today, the Albany trustees allow women to live amongst them. As long as they’re the right sort.
Some sets are held as freehold. In 2017, one apartment went on sale with an asking price of £7m.
As for Terence Stamp, things didn’t go so well for him in the beginning. Jean Shrimpton dumped him, and his career started to pale, especially in comparison to that of his former flatmate, Michael Caine. After three years he set off to India to find the meaning of life.
Yet he still retained his set of rooms. In the 1980s he befriended Princess Diana when her marriage to Prince Charles had foundered. Stamp enjoyed entertaining Diana at his apartment. In spite of rumours that they became lovers, he insists that he behaved like a gentleman at all times. On one occasion he cooked a mushroom risotto and squeezed out the letters HRH in black and white from two tubes of truffle paste. She was thrilled with the result.
Buck House (as Londoners sometimes call it) features on almost every tourist’s hit list.
Take a snapshot
If you simply want to stand outside it and have your image captured and sent globally to all your Facebook or Instagram followers, please feel free to do so.
If you want your photo to suggest that you were standing alone at the gates, as if about to enter with a special queenly invitation, avoid going there between the hours of 10-12 during the Guard Change. You won’t get anywhere near the gates. This usually takes place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and more frequently in the summer.
You actually want to go inside?
You don’t have an invitation but still want to go inside the Palace? You’ll have to wait until ‘Her Maj’ is away.
From late July until the end of September, she spends the hunting season in her cold and draughty Balmoral Castle in Scotland. While she’s battling with rain, midges and duty visits from Prime Ministers she allows the hoi polloi to trail through her 19 State Rooms.
10 things to see and know about Buckingham Palace.
1 Still counting…
It’s bigger than it looks with 775 rooms in total. The Queen lives in a dozen private rooms on the first (upper) floor overlooking The Green Park.
2 We are not amused…
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to move in, aged 18, in 1837. You can see her statue on the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. Not the breast feeding young mother that faces the palace, but the grumpy looking matron around the back.
See the balcony in the middle where, on special days, the royal A-list line up to wave and occasionally kiss.
3 Regal gestures.
A flag always flies above Buckingham Palace. If you recognise our national flag, you’ll know that the Queen is away. If it’s the flag full of lions and a harp merged with a winged, topless girl, you’ll know that the Queen is at home.
5 Eerie nights.
Buckingham Palace is haunted
On Christmas Day, a chain-rattling brown-hooded monk wanders, moaning, at night. He was imprisoned and died in a punishment cell that once existed many years before this Palace was built.
Palace staff also talk about strange auras in one particular office where a private secretary to King Edward VII allegedly shot himself after a scandalous divorce.
6 We’re still standing.
The Palace was bombed nine times in World War 2. On one occasion, the Queen (later to become the Queen Mother) stated, while inspecting the bomb damage: “I’m glad we have been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face.”
London’s East End was a poor, run-down area where the docks were situated and where people spoke with Cockney accents. (Think Eliza Doolittle.) This location (not the accents) made it a perfect target for the German bombers. The newly made homeless sheltered in deplorable conditions in London’s underground stations.
The Queen Mother’s sentiments ensured her East Enders’ devotion for the rest of her life. (Her predilection for a glass of gin and a flutter on the horses didn’t harm her popularity either.)
7 Sorry, you’re not on the list.
Some people simply can’t wait for an invitation to the Palace.
In 1982 a man called Michael Fagan managed to scale the palace garden walls, break into the palace and enter the Queen’s bedroom. He woke her up, sat on her bed and asked her for a cigarette. Her footman had taken her little corgi dogs for a walk in the garden, and she was left unprotected.
Eventually, the police were called and the intruder was taken away. Is he still languishing in jail today? Not a bit of it. He was released without charge. In those days it was not a criminal offence to break into the Queen’s bedroom. I can assure you it is now.
In 2004 Batman climbed on to a ledge next to the palace balcony and refused to come down for five hours. He was campaigning for greater rights for fathers.
8 One does not feel at home here.
The Palace may be Her Majesty’s official residence but she doesn’t particularly like it. Treating it as her office, she generally stays here on weekdays only. Most Fridays afternoons she heads home to the much older and grander Windsor Castle.
9 We all stayed for tea.
Each year, over 20,000 people do get invited to have tea at Buckingham Palace in the garden. The Queen hosts three garden parties during the summer for people usually in public service whom she wishes to reward.
At each event, these 8000 people devour 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches, and 20,000 slices of cake between.
The men wear smart suits and the women wear hats and fascinators and uncomfortable shoes. They can often be seen leaving the Palace carrying their stilettos in their hands.
10 How to get there.
The prettiest route to the Palace is from Green Park tube station, 10 minutes walk across The Green Park. Other nearby tube stops are Victoria and St. James’s Park.