LONDON – Few people are likely to turn down one of the prized invitations to the post-wedding gathering Queen Elizabeth II will throw at Buckingham Palace after Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot on April 29.
It's not just the glamour of the wedding itself, or the chance to hobnob with Britain's elite. It's also an opportunity to wander through the central London palace, an opulent attraction in its own right that is being spruced up for the big event.
Officials said Tuesday that 19 state rooms will be used for the afternoon reception on April 29, which will be followed that evening by a more intimate dinner and dance for 300 friends of the royal couple.
Some of the palace's finest art will be on display — think masterpieces by Canaletto, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian and others of their stature — and food prepared by chefs accustomed to using only finest ingredients and some of the world's best wines.
"Whenever we have a special event at Buckingham Palace we make sure that the greatest artworks are on display and make sure people are going to see the best of Buckingham Palace," said Jennifer Scott, assistant curator of paintings at the Royal Collection. "For anybody who studied history of art, walking into this room is such a gift, it's such an experience."
William and Middleton probably won't need to be briefed about the stories behind the paintings — both studied art history when they met as freshmen at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Scott said the palace was used by Queen Victoria for some of the opulent parties that defined her reign. She became the first monarch to take up residence at the palace in 1837.
"If you were to come to one of those balls in the 19th century you would be enjoying a great social occasion but also you would be in this setting, and so really it's perfect for that," she said. "When you get an idea of the special quality of this place, it's magical, it really oozes history."
Plans call for a number of state rooms in the west wing to be used for the reception, including the white drawing room, the music room, the blue drawing room and the state dining room along with the nearby picture gallery, where the multitiered wedding cake is expected to be on display.
Edward Griffiths, Deputy Master of the Household, said palace staff is used to hosting big events and caters to roughly 50,000 guests a year.
He said 60 people will be working at the afternoon reception, doing everything from opening car doors for guests to serving them canapes and drinks, including wine and champagne.
Details about the food selection and the wine list are not being released yet, though the queen's head chef Mark Flanagan said the food will show off "the best of British produce."
"It's a very joyous occasion and preparations are going extremely well," Griffiths said.