What Is Living In Buckingham Palace Really Like?

Filled with intrigue and mystery, the famous Buckingham Palace is arguably the most important institution in the United Kingdom. The marveled structure, which has been the official home of the royal family since the era of Queen Victoria, functions equally as the headquarters of Queen Elizabeth II and a powerful symbol of Britain's long-lasting, esteemed monarchy.

The image of the queen, the royal family, and the palace as a whole has remained incredibly important throughout history, and yet so much of the inner workings of Buckingham Palace is kept secret. Information from the monarch and the royals on the specifics of their day-to-day lives are rarely revealed by themselves, and rather are exposed by former staff members in tell-all interviews or best-selling books.

While every government entity has to maintain some kind of privacy for safety and protective reasons, those living in the United Kingdom, who paid £69.4 million ($96.28 million) in taxes to the royal family in 2020 (via Forbes), often look for some insight into life inside the palace. From royal movie theaters and post offices to annual garden parties and fancy dining, let's take a trip to London's most popular building and marvel at life inside Buckingham Palace.

The palace has over 700 rooms

While Buckingham Palace is known for being the official residence of the British monarchy, it has taken several renovations and additions over hundreds of years for it to reach that status. The palace, which was formerly known as Buckingham House in the 1700s, belonged to John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham, who made the original renovations in 1705. King George III bought Buckingham House from Sheffield in 1761, and the monarch decided to renovate the structure and make it inhabitable for his wife, Queen Charlotte, according to the website of the British royal family. Buckingham House was informally known as the "Queen's House," and eventually, it was deemed an official royal residence through the descendants of George and a vote by the British Parliament around 1834, per History.

Queen Victoria became the first official resident of Buckingham Palace in 1837, and reigned from the building until her death in 1901. Queen Elizabeth II lived in the home from 1952 until March 2022, when it was announced she would permanently move her residence to Windsor Castle, reported the New York Post.

Buckingham Palace is currently home to the London offices of Princess Anne; Prince Edward and Sofie, the Countess of Wessex; and Prince Andrew, and employs approximately 800 staff members, including chefs, doctors, and personal staff (per Woman and Home). To accommodate its many guests, the palace has 775 rooms (which include 52 royal and guest bedrooms and 188 staff bedrooms), 78 bathrooms, and 92 offices.

Palace residents have their own chefs

Living permanently in the most important building in the United Kingdom means having an extensive staff to tend to each and every possible need, including eating. It takes a lot to rule entire countries, and the royal family has many staffers to ensure they are properly fed and taken care of. The queen herself has a team of 20 chefs, and a palace kitchen certainly fit for royalty, adorned with copper pans and marble countertops, per Hello!.

Queen Elizabeth starts her week by selecting a number of dishes from a menu provided to her by the head chef. According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the monarch starts her day with a British staple, tea and biscuits, as well as a bowl of cereal, reported The Independent. For lunch, she typically eats light and has some type of grilled fish or chicken with a vegetable like spinach or zucchini. Later, the queen enjoys afternoon tea with a variety of finger foods, including scones, éclairs, tartlets, and savory sandwiches like smoked salmon, roast beef, or cheese and tomato (with the crusts cut off), according to The Telegraph. Dinner follows lunch in simplicity, and typically includes a protein such as venison, salmon, or pheasant with a creamy mushroom sauce, according to Bustle.

Elizabeth is not the only one who gets the royal treatment in terms of food, and the royal pets are treated with just as much care and attention.

The queen's animals also have personal cooks

Queen Elizabeth, among many things, is notorious for her love of corgis. In her lifetime, the monarch has had over 30 of the fluffy friends and treats them with just as much attention and love as the rest of her family, per Page Six. The queen's dogs have their own room called "The Corgi Room" and rest in large wicker baskets with plenty of comfortable cushions, according to former royal chef Darren McGrady. During his tenure as chef at Buckingham Palace, one of McGrady's responsibilities was preparing meals for not only the royal family, but also the pets. "The royal corgi menu had a whole selection of different meats, cabbage and rice," he said in a YouTube video. All of the meals are prepared fresh each day, and McGrady noted it was imperative that the meats be chopped especially fine to avoid giving the dogs any bones.

The royal staff aren't the only ones who spoil the dogs. Elizabeth is known to be very fond of her furry companions, and does everything from making them Christmas stockings filled with toys and treats to taking them on daily walks around the palace, reported Hello!.

Today, the queen has three dogs, an elder dorgi (a corgi/dachshund mix) named Candy, and two young corgi puppies, which she received as a gift in March 2021, according to Today.

There is access to just about everything

Buckingham Palace is arguably one of the biggest royal residences in the world, measuring a whopping 828,820 square feet, per Insider. Given the amount of the structure's space, it only makes sense for it to have everything necessary to function as its own little (or big) city, including a movie theater, ATM, and post office.

The movie theater in the palace is not usually used by the royals, but is mainly used by the staff members who reside in the building. BBC journalist Emily Maitlis revealed the palace's special theater following an interview with Prince Andrew in The Times. In the midst of exiting the palace, Maitlis briefly witnessed its south drawing room being renovated. "It's for the Buckingham Palace cinema," a palace employee told her. The theater allegedly has exclusive movie screenings, but — according to the employee — Netflix's series "The Crown," which centers around the royal family throughout Queen Elizabeth II's reign, is off limits.

Outside of a movie theater, Buckingham Palace also has an ATM. While the queen is known for never carrying loose bills in her purse, the cash machine, connected to Coutts Bank, does serve royal residents who carry a particularly heavy bank balance. According to Tatler, anyone can bank for free with the institution if they have at least £1 million ($1,248,055) in their accounts. As for the post office? The mailing station operates through Royal Mail, the official mailing system of the monarchy (per The U.S. Sun).

It is costly to run

A home as old and large as Buckingham Palace needs plenty of money to function properly. According to Fortune, the palace costs approximately $85.2 million to operate annually (as of 2019), with the sum of money coming from the government of the United Kingdom, which includes the Sovereign Grant. The multi-million dollar price tag for the palace covers a variety of costs, ranging from salaries for the hundreds of palace staff members to royal travel and general maintenance, per Vanity Fair.

The expenses of the palace don't just come from paying employees and fixing a lightbulb here and there, however. In 2021, CNN reported that — along with the costs of running the home — there was a $514 million budget to renovate the building. The list of renovations included replacing the roof, redoing the floors, and adding elevators, though many found the grand overhaul questionable, given the sheer amount of money it cost taxpayers.

Buckingham Palace is much more than just the home of Queen Elizabeth, though, it is also a huge money-making tourist attraction that pumps millions back into the British economy. The Royal Estate properties, which include Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, generated £48 million ($58 million) in ticket sales, and £21 million ($25 million) in retail sales in the 2018-2019 year period, reported Express. What goes around does come back around (and subsequently pays off) it seems.

There was once a palace bar

Who said the official Buckingham Palace movie theater was the only place to relax and have fun? At one point, the building had a bar for its many employees to use and enjoy. Unfortunately, many of the bar's patrons got unruly and drunk too often, according to former royal press secretary Dickie Arbiter. In the Channel 5 documentary, "Secrets of the Royal Palaces," Arbiter revealed that employees of the royal household frequented the bar and got carried away when it came to handling alcohol, which ultimately led to Queen Elizabeth closing it down for good (via Food and Wine).

It is unknown when the bar was established or the exact date when it closed down, but it is nonetheless fascinating to consider that one of the most serious institutions in the British government — and arguably the world — had a pub of unruly guests in it. Despite the absence of a royal bar in the palace, the queen herself is known to enjoy a couple alcoholic beverages from time to time. 

So what drink is suitable for the queen? Champagne on some occasions, though her beverage of choice is a gin and Dubonnet, according to People. The cocktail includes gin, Dubonnet, a few ice cubes, and a lemon peel for garnish. The monarch likes gin so much that her estates produce two distinct brands of the alcohol, one of which is crafted with ingredients straight from the palace's gardens, per The Royal Collection Trust.

Parties are common and plentiful

Bars and movie theaters are great, but there is nothing quite like a royal party. The official royal garden party takes place every summer and hosts over 30,000 guests. Originally started by Queen Victoria in 1868, garden parties have since become an important event in the royal household (per Town and Country). The special occasion occurs over three days and is meant to highlight those who play a special role in their communities and includes socializing with different people. Guests of the party are expected to formally dress, with men wearing top hats with long suit jackets and women wearing dresses with grand hats to match.

Throughout the mingling event, Buckingham Palace is responsible for serving an incredible amount of food, totaling around "27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches, and 20,000 slices of cakes," according to the royal family's website. Attendees are typically a variety of people, ranging from celebrities to government officials, but can depend on the party theme. For example, on one occasion, the queen invited couples who were married for 50 years to celebrate her own anniversary with Prince Phillip, reported the Daily Mail.

Queen Elizabeth, who has attended the royal garden parties since 1937, will not be present at the upcoming event in May 2022. The monarch, who is said to be dealing with mobility issues, will be represented by members of the royal family, such as Prince Charles and Princess Anne, per The Guardian.

Employees spend all their time at the palace

Being an official employee of the royal household is vastly different from any other job. While the duties and tasks may be normal, such as delivering a meal or doing laundry, the environment in which such duties are executed is anything but normal. Many of the hundreds of staff members at Buckingham Palace essentially spend all of their time in the building, eating, sleeping, and working all in the same place. This experience gives employees an intimate look into one of the world's most mysterious-yet-admired institutions.

In addition to living at the palace, some staff members (depending on their position) can also enjoy other benefits, such as "phones and bikes, discretionary car leasing and free staff lunches," reported Forbes. Reporter Ryan Parry of The Mirror went undercover after he was hired as a footman at the palace in 2003, and revealed many details about life for working members of the royal household. "Live-in staff have three meals a day. Dishes like roast pork and banoffi pie — served to royals the previous day — often popped up," he wrote in the exposé.

Employees also receive an itinerary each morning that details their responsibilities for the day, which can be as simple as arranging dishes on the queen's table to bringing a fresh pot of tea to a royal like Prince Andrew. Other details of royal staff members, like specific roles, titles, and salaries, are kept more secret by the palace, however, Insider reported.

The palace has its own medical household

Tending to all the needs of the queen is important, but overseeing her health — as well as the health of the greater royal family — is perhaps the most significant. Buckingham Palace is equipped with a full team of medical professionals to treat and monitor the health of Britain's most important family. The team includes doctors who are available all hours of the day, as well as the physician to the queen, reported the BBC. Sir Huw Thomas has held the important title since 2014, and generally conducts routine check-ups for Queen Elizabeth and the royal family from the palace.

Speaking about the nature of his position, Thomas told London's Imperial College, "You very much become part of that organisation and become the personal doctor to the principal people in it, who are patients just like other patients. ... My role at the Medical Household doesn't have fixed sessions, and it's as and when I'm needed."

The duties of the palace's medical staff exceed some regular check-ups, however. During cross-country trips and official royal tours, the queen would travel with a Royal Navy doctor, whose responsibilities included locating accessible hospitals, bringing medical supplies like medicine and a defibrillator, and even monitoring packs of blood in the case of an emergency, according to The Telegraph. While Elizabeth is vulnerable due to her age, the monarch has remained in good health even through her battle with COVID-19, with the aid of the medical household.