Dining with Royalty

by Brian Gregory
Kew Palace: now as it was in 1818 Taste of history as palaces cater to business events

Looking for that very special venue in London to impress clients, celebrate an anniversary or help clinch a big business deal? Set against a long and colorful backdrop of war and peace, and poverty and prosperity, some of Britain’s grandest properties are tapping their glorious pasts by providing businesses, organizations and individuals with unique locations to stage prestigious events, launch new products and impress clients.

For a formal banquet, relaxed reception or glittering fashion show, try the Tower of London, Banqueting House, or the palaces of Hampton Court, Kensington and Kew — complete with an unmatched history and lavish surroundings.

And if you think these are just neglected properties long abandoned by the aristocracy, consider my experience in 2006.

Hampton Court Palace’s pool garden Performance artist Hiroaki Omote, founder of the Neo-Japanesque movement, created a show called Saviour IV and was looking for exactly the right place. Naturally, Omote wanted to view it first so we went to see the Banqueting House. During the tour, the director suddenly asked us to wait a few minutes as an “important guest” had arrived. We looked around and there was Prince Charles, no less, who had come to personally book the same place for a different date. Omote signed on the spot.

Each palace has its own personality, style and wealth of stories that will make any occasion unforgettable. Where else could your guests be entertained by a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater), or enjoy a private guided tour of sumptuous state apartments, or dine where the Queen enjoyed her 80th birthday party in 2006?

The palaces are owned by the Queen, but are looked after by Historic Royal Palaces which is an independent charity. Historic Royal Palaces’ aim is to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built and to conserve the palaces for future generations.

Banqueting House Main Hall  Although the palaces are owned by the Queen on behalf of the nation, Historic Royal Palaces receives no funding from the government or the Crown, depending instead on the support of visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors.

All of the palaces ceased being used regularly for royal court purposes in the 18th century and the government took over their management. The palaces were first opened to the public in the 19th century — although the Tower of London was open to selected visitors much earlier — and Historic Royal Palaces became an independent charity by Royal Charter with a board of trustees in 1998.

Kew Palace
This most intimate of the five royal palaces has been extensively conserved over the past ten years and the lower floors recreated as they were between 1818 and 1901 when the palace was used by George III and his family. In summer, George III’s Dining Room is available for intimate dinner parties for up to 24 guests, or 40 for receptions in the Queen’s Garden.

Kensington Palace
A royal residence for over 300 years, today it houses a stunning collection of royal court and ceremonial dress, including dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales. The famous Orangery, with its sense of space and light, hosts receptions and parties while the opulent palace is a gorgeous setting for a memorable dinner or reception. It seats up to 150 diners, or 300 for receptions, while adding a marquee takes the total to 450.

Banqueting House
Probably most famous for the execution of Charles I in 1649, it has a sweeping staircase for a dramatic entrance and a magnificent ceiling painting by Peter Paul Rubens. More than 375 guests can dine in comfort, or enjoy a fashion show, cocktail reception or concert.

Tower of London
For over 900 years, it has dominated the city and remains one of London’s most prominent landmarks as a world-famous British Icon. Impress guests with this unique setting and entertain them pre-dinner with a private viewing of the Crown Jewels or a special yeoman tour with fascinating stories. The New Armouries, built in 1663, has been meticulously restored for day and evening banquets, receptions and conferences with state-of-the-art facilities. The Martin Tower, home to the Crown Jewels for 200 years and which houses the Crowns and Diamonds exhibition, is now available for intimate dinners.

Hampton Court Palace
Entertain corporate guests in the magnificent surroundings of Henry VIII’s Great Hall, or the unique atmosphere of the Kings Guard Chamber with its breathtaking display of weaponry dating back to 1699. The picturesque Garden Room is an ideal location for a summer wedding when guests can wander in the gardens. The smallest room holds 40 dinner guests and the Great Hall hosts 280 for dinner and 400 for a reception, while the marquee site is good for 600 diners or 800 for a reception.