On the cusp of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, London-born historian Sophie Malerba, a Blue Badge Tourist Guide — who set the standard for guiding in the UK — reveals the stories that connect kings and queens to Brown’s Hotel and The Balmoral. These regal Rocco Forte hotels can trace their royal affiliations through the centuries so, naturally, they’re celebrating in flamboyant style, as befits the occasion.
Sharing the secrets of prestigious London neighbourhoods Mayfair and St. James, Sophie reveals what the monarchy means to her. “While prime ministers and political parties may come and go, the one constant in our lives is Her Majesty The Queen,” says Sophie. “To me, she represents stability and heritage.”
“While prime ministers and political parties may come and go, the one constant in our lives is Her Majesty The Queen"
Intimately linked with both London and Edinburgh, the royal family’s roots are intertwined with both cityscapes. “The Queen herself was born in the least ornate room of a townhouse on Bruton Street,” Sophie tells us. Thirty years earlier, her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, was taking tea at Brown’s.
A stomping ground for the young royals, the neighbourhood surrounding Brown’s Hotel is home to exclusive private members’ clubs favoured by Prince William, his brother Harry and their cousins. In addition, many storied Mayfair shops have had Royal Warrants bestowed upon them as a mark of recognition to those who supply goods or services to the UK’s regal households.
One example is John Lobbs Ltd, “an incredibly understated, friendly and wonderfully historic shoe shop,” in Sophie’s words, “which is still family owned.” If you’re lucky enough to be invited downstairs, “it’s as if you're entering the world of Alice in Wonderland,” she says.
Among rows upon rows of wooden lasts - wooden frames used to create a bespoke shoe - Sophie spied those used to create The Queen’s handmade boots: “they’re absolutely tiny”, she confides.
Marcus Adams, the photographer of two generations of young royals, often hosted the royal family at his photography studio at 43 Dover Street, right next door to the decorous Dover Suite at Brown’s Hotel. Adams cleverly hid his camera in a cabinet, leaving him free to roam the room, putting his young subjects at ease. Today, Peter Harrington’s bookshop, specialising in rare and unique tomes, sits where the studio once was.
“With four royal residences in the area, it’s only natural that Mayfair is so strongly associated with the royals,” Sophie says, citing St James’s Palace, which has been a significant residence since Tudor times.
"It’s only natural that Mayfair is so strongly associated with the Royals,"
In Scotland, it’s no coincidence that Sir Rocco Forte’s Edinburgh hotel shares its name with the Queen's estate in the quiet, rural refuge of the Cairngorms. “The Queen Mother regularly visited The Balmoral hotel,” Sophie shares, “where she loved the simplicity of the lamb for lunch.” The hotel’s beautiful Bowes-Lyon Suite, named in her honour, bears witness to her patronage.
In 2022, especially for the Queen’s Jubilee, guests visiting The Balmoral can embark on an exclusive after-hours tour of the retired Royal Yacht Britannia, moored a mere 15-minute drive from the hotel. So grand it has its own on-board garage, the floating palace is where Her Majesty entertained royalty, dignitaries and celebrities for more than 40 years.
“The love in this country for the Queen is immense,” Sophie asserts, recalling official parades when the long-awaited appearance of the monarch is the catalyst for, “a deafening roar, erupting from the crowd”.
Knowing that everyone is there to see her, the Queen frequently opts for daring ensembles in bold, bright colours. “Anyone who wears neon green, at 90 years old, can come to my party,” Sophie says with a laugh. Well, a London-loving historian with a fondness for the royal family can always dream.
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