Princess for a day in London
Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, walk up the aisle after their wedding ceremony in Westminster Abbey in central London in this April 29, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Dave Thompson/Pool/Files
LONDON, England -- "You have a double crown," observes Karen Pringle, who is untangling my freshly washed hair at this tony Sloane Square salon.
"Really? That's perfect," I tell her, oblivious of the stylistic challenges this likely presents for the chic new look I'm hoping to get. You see, I'm on a mission to live like a princess for a day and now that I know I'm sporting a double crown, it's given me a psychological boost. Who knows it might even open some doors!
Britain seems the ideal place to live out a royal fantasy, not only because the capital, London, has all the ingredients to fulfill a heart's every desire, but also because it's home to one of the world's longest-reigning monarchies. And what better year than 2012, which marks the Queen's Diamond Jubilee? More than a dozen royal-themed events and celebrations are planned throughout the year with many highlights taking place in London June 2-5.
Of course, if you want to travel like a princess you have to look the part, hence my morning appointment with Pringle at Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa. The award- winning salon and its 75 staff, cater to the beauty needs of a glittering celebrity clientele, from Liz Hurley to Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) and Sophie, Countess of Wessex (wife of Prince Edward), and now, probably for the first time, one little-known Canadian.
Pringle has managed to turn my previously shapeless tresses into a sassy new cut, and offers clever tips on how to maintain it. Pleased with my new look, I stroll the upscale neighbourhood, stopping at the Saatchi gallery (free admission) to view the current contemporary art exhibits. Then I hop on the tube (I've opted to forgo taxis or chauffeured limousines to finance more dreamy princess activities) to the five-star Langham Hotel for an appointment at Chuan Spa.
The massage is the perfect antidote to sleep deprivation on my overnight flight. With more time I would've used the aroma steam rooms, vitality pool or salt sauna.
The day began with a light drizzle. Now it is pouring. The inclement weather, paired with hunger pangs, prompt me to settle in at the Langham's elegant Palm Court, which claims to be the place where the afternoon tea tradition was born more than 140 years ago.
A member of the prestigious Tea Guild, Palm Court was voted Top London Afternoon Tea in 2010. The experience has come a long way since the Duchess of Bedford (credited with creating "afternoon tea") had a sinking feeling one afternoon and asked her footman to deliver tea-making equipment, bread and butter to her room.
Today's version, or at least the one I select -- the Bijoux Afternoon Tea -- is a lavish affair, with five sandwiches, including poached Scottish salmon in pink champagne with green peppercorns, fresh scones, and a selection of pastries and cakes inspired by the finest jewels.
Sinking back into my chair, sipping rooibos tea as a pianist entertains, I ponder which pastry to sample first -- the Chanel pearl, the Delice de Cartier or perhaps the Baccarat eclipse. Was it intentional that the cakes reflect the Langham's decor -- in this case the gold encrusted walls and jewelled gates?
ON THE TOWN
I rush back to my hotel to change before heading to the theatre. Aristocrats often favour the Goring hotel (Kate Middleton and her parents stayed there before the wedding) which would've been a logical choice. But, aside from the fact it was full, this modern-day princess wanted to try something a little more contemporary.
I found it at One Aldwych (the name of the hotel is also its address). This Covent Garden property satisfies all my wants -- five-start comfort, attentive service, central location (near theatres, shops, museums) -- even sound environmental practices from locally sourced, organic produce used in its kitchen, to paraben-free toiletries. To top it off, there's a lap pool, one of my favourite amenities. This one is chlorine-free and features music underwater!
Swimming will have to wait though. I'm off to the theatre -- one that Charles Dickens once called "the largest and handsomest" in London -- for the final experience on my princess itinerary. Theatre Royal Drury Lane has not one, but two Royal boxes, and I've managed to snag one, which I'll occupy with three friends. Watching Shrek, The Musical from this privileged vantage point, I'm hoping to pick up some pointers from Princess Fiona -- one of the lead characters.
Aside from the additional space, privacy and unhindered view of the stage afforded by the Royal box, we also have our own red-coated butler. Anthony Bristoe, who has attended VIP guests including Prince Charles, brings us drinks and, during intermission, ushers us into the red-carpeted private Royal Retiring Room.
"This is the oldest playhouse in the world," he explains, sensing our interest in the historic venue. "There's been a theatre on this site since 1663."
As we return to our seats, Bristoe tells us Angelina Jolie and her children were here a few days earlier, seated in the slightly larger box (for six) next to ours.
Shrek has received rave reviews and now I know why. It is funny, touching, and by the end, puts me in a celebratory mood, which stays with me until the next day.
Many events will take place in London during the Diamond Jubilee Weekend, June 2-5. Highlights include:
-- Investec Derby Day (June 2) at Epsom Downs Racecourse.
-- Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (June 3) with over 1,000 decorated boats floating up the river.
-- Diamond Jubilee Beacons -- at least 2,012 beacons will be lit across Britain, the Commonwealth and around the world (June 4).
-- Queen's Carriage Procession through the streets of London (June 5).
Ongoing exhibits/events include:
-- Victoria Revealed, a new permanent exhibit about Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace, opens March 26.
-- Buckingham Palace tours will feature a Diamonds exhibition, June 30-Oct. 7.
-- Queen Elizabeth II by Beaton (portraits by Cecil Beaton) continues at Victoria & Albert museum through April 22.
-- The Royal River exhibition at the National Maritime Museum through Sept. 9.
-- The Queen: Art and Image at The National Portrait Gallery through Oct. 21.
For travel information, see VisitBritain.com.