In Review

Inside Kensington Palace: William and Kate’s London family home

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to raise their three children in the famed residence

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have begun life as a family of five in London’s opulent yet secluded Kensington Palace.

The royal couple have been settled at Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace since mid-2017 following William’s decision to leave his role with the East Anglian Air Ambulance, so that Prince George can attend school in the capital and to enable the couple to increase their royal duties.

This means they spend far less time at Anmer Hall, their Norfolk country house, which the couple extensively re-developed and made their primary home whilst raising their first two children.

They are also now close to newlyweds, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have taken up permanent residence in Nottingham Cottage, a cosy, two-bedroomed property in the shadow of the main building, writes The Daily Telegraph.

The cottage was previously occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who used it as their London base for around two and a half years.

The building is steeped in history and underwent a major redevelopment in 2011. But what else is known about the private royal residence in west London?

The building

Kensington Palace, formerly known as Nottingham House, is a Jacobean-era mansion built in 1605. It was purchased by King William III and Queen Mary II, who ruled jointly from 1689. They commissioned Christopher Wren to expand and update it.

After its heyday under William and Mary, the palace fell out of favour with the monarchs who came after them. The building was eventually split up into accommodation for minor royals (Edward VIII once referred to it as an “aunt heap”, notes the Daily Telegraph. Each partition became a numbered apartment.

After years of neglect and a lack of maintenance, Apartment 1A of Kensington Palace was offered to another young royal couple in 1960: Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. The couple decided that 1A should not go to waste, and put the palace through an £85,000 renovation after moving in – around £1.5m in today's money.

The apartment would have been well-known to Prince William in the past. After their marriage in 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana moved into the nearby Apartment 8, on the other side of Kensington Palace, and a short walk from Charles's aunt in 1A.

The palace was refurbished in 2011 at a cost of £12m. "We have set out to awake the sleeping beauty of Kensington Palace," said Charles McKay, chair of the Historic Royal Palaces board.

The massive redevelopment involved more than 100 workers, and included the removal of bomb damage that the palace sustained during the Second World War.

There is also a darker side to Apartment 1A, which is said to be the most haunted residence in the palace.

While there have been many reports of ghost sightings over the centuries throughout the palace, including by King George II and Queen Mary II, most of the stories concerning Apartment 1A date from the late 1970s, when Princess Margaret was in residence.

According to her official biographer, Christopher Warwick, one incident concerned her housekeeper, "Mrs Mac", who saw the figure of a woman in Regency dress standing in the hallway of the Drawing Room.

On another occasion, when the rooms on the top floor of the house were used as staff accommodation, Mrs Mac and "John", the butler, were both awoken by a terrible scream in the middle of the night, but were the only people in the building at the time.

Inside the apartment
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks with US President Barack Obama as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks with First Lady of the United States Michelle Oba

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2016 Getty Images

The term “apartment” is misleading, as it's “effectively a spacious four-storey house, which forms half of the Clock Tower wing”, says the Daily Mail.

The 2011 redevelopment of the apartment seemed to operate under the philosophy of "less is more". It involved knocking through a number of walls and bringing the room count down from 30 to 20.

Now more spacious and just as luxurious as ever, the apartment has two Peter Rabbit themed nurseries, three kitchens and a host of rooms dedicated to charities set up by Princess Diana.

In the entrance hall are two 19th-century Corinthian lamps and, on loan from the royal treasure chest, a Persian rug worth about $50,000 (£40,000), according to Curbed.

In April 2016, the then-US president, Barack Obama, and first lady, Michelle Obama, paid a visit to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Apartment 1A. Official photographs of the meeting allowed a rare glimpse into the interior of the renovated residence.

The photos show one of the apartment's drawing rooms, which was redecorated for the couple using £4.5m worth of taxpayers' money, “although the couple footed the bill for fixtures and furnishing themselves”, says the Daily Mail. “Its design was more reminiscent of a comfortable country home than a grand, palatial lounge – with floral cushions adorning comfortable looking cream sofas,” says the newspaper.

What is life like in the royal residence?

An exclusive behind-the-scenes account of life in the royal residence was published by the Daily Mail in April, and shows how William and Kate are trying to make life as normal as possible for their three children.

Kate is described as sticking to a strict breakfast routine, playing Capital Radio in the kitchen before anonymously joining the rush-hour traffic at the wheel of a Range Rover, to drive Prince George the four miles from Kensington Palace to his day school in Battersea. She then drops off Princess Charlotte at her nursery just around the corner.

The Mail says that while there are domestic staff, it is “nothing like the number employed by Charles and Diana when William was a child”. They had at least a dozen full-time staff in London, including a dresser for the Princess, housekeeper, butler and a valet for the Prince.

This all adds to a household atmosphere that “is relatively informal by royal standards” says the Mail, with William tending to call staff by their first name, rather than their surname as his parents mainly did.

“It’s the home of a modern couple, lots of photographs of the children and the bits of artwork they bring home from school,” says a friend, but one where privacy is still strictly guarded and the number of outsiders let into the family circle kept to a minimum.

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