The Duchess of Cambridge stepped up her public duties yesterday by celebrating St Patrick’s Day with the Irish Guards – just as the new public face of her London home was unveiled.
The Duchess presented members of the 1st Bn Irish Guards, with shamrock at their barracks in Aldershot, continuing a tradition begun in 1901.
As well as the officers and men of the Guards battalion, she pinned a sprig of the plant on the collar of Conmael, the regimental mascot - after petting the wolfhound, who had been specially shampooed and blow-dried for the occasion.
She follows in the footsteps of Queen Alexandra, who began the tradition of a shamrock ceremony for the Irish Guards - and whose shamrock Cartier broach the Duchess wore - and the Queen Mother, who presented the sprigs more than 30 times.
The ceremony, at Mons barracks in Aldershot, Hants, was followed by the Duchess toasting the health of the regiment with sherry in the mess and meeting serving soldiers and veterans.
The full dress uniform of scarlet may have seemed familiar as the Duke of Cambridge wore it for their wedding, because of his status as the honorary colonel of the Irish Guards.
The Duchess herself chose a green belted coat dress by Emilia Wickstead, which she bought specially for the occasion, accessorised with a chocolate brown hat by Lock & Co and brown suede heels. Wickstead was also the choice of Samantha Cameron last week during her visit with the Prime Minister to New York last week.
Presenting the shamrock was the latest public duty carried out by the Duchess during her husband’s deployment to the Falklands as an RAF search and rescue pilot, and marks the start of what aides said would be a close relationship with the Irish Guards.
Tomorrow make her first speech as a member of the Royal Family when she visits The Treehouse, a children’s hospice in Ipswich, Suffolk, of which she is Royal Patron.
The ceremony came as Kensington Palace - her and the Duke’s London home - is to puts its remarkable history on display after a £12 million refurbishment which opens some of its private areas to public view for the first time.
The transformation of the palace, which has been home to a succession of royals has been completed for the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen and will open to visitors later this month.
It will feature a new 10-acre garden on what were once the private grounds of Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, a whole new public entrance and exhibitions of some of its unseen treasures.
The project, which has taken almost two years to complete, is the most significant change to the Palace’s public areas in at least a generation.
The biggest single change will be the new Jubilee Garden, which is designed to “reconnect” the Palace with Kensington Gardens, the Royal park in which it is situated.
The Garden will become the public entrance to the Palace, instead of the palace’s south-facing “golden gates”, which became a famous landmark covered with thousands of bouquets of flowers following the death of the Princess of Wales.
The new gardens will also feature the “Wiggly Walk”, a winding walkway set amongst newly planted shrubbery which also allows disabled access.
It will mean that for the first time in decades the east of the palace is fully visible to park visitors and has as its centrepiece a restored and repositioned statue of Queen Victoria, designed by her daughter Princess Louise, which previously marked the boundary between the public and private exterior of the palace.
Once through the garden, visitors to the palace will enter into “The White Court”, in what was previously a private internal courtyard which has now been roofed over.
Formerly office space, it ha been changed into a hub from which the different routes into the Palace branch off and as as its centrepiece a giant light sculpture known as Luminous Lace, inspired by lace garments worn by former royals including Queen Victoria and Princess Margaret.
The new layout also includes “the Vestibule” which has portraits of some of the palace’s most famous past and present residents, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and a ceiling which features a spiral motif of famous quotes from the Palace’s inhabitants
A major new exhibition about the life of Queen Victoria, who was born at Kensington Palace and lived there until she became queen at 18, will be among the highlights of the newly reopened palace.
Previously unexhibited items will include a gold locket given to Queen Victoria on her first birthday in 1820, containing a lock of hair from her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince Albert’s dressing kit, featuring razors, brushes and a tongue scraper, one of his rarest surviving personal items.
Another main attraction will be a new display of dresses worn by Princess Diana.
The five dresses include the famous black strapless evening dress designed by Emanuel, the fashion house that later created her wedding dress, which the then 19-year old Lady Diana Spencer wore in 1981 to an early engagement with the Prince of Wales A black cocktail dress by the late designer Gianni Versace, a friend of Princess Diana, will also be on display.
Originally built in 1605 as a private country house, Kensington Palace was bought in 1689 by King William III and Queen Mary II. Kensington Gardens was later designed by Charles Bridgeman, one of Britain’s leading landscape gardeners and the royal gardener from 1728 until 1738.
Changed and added to over the centuries, the exteriors and interiors include designs by British history’s most notable architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanburgh and John Nash.
As well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who will move in 2013 from their current cottage in the grounds to Apartment 1A, the former home of Princess Margaret its current residents include Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.