To celebrate the fatness of our Kings.
Assuming you mean the Royal Pavilion that is, and not the wholefood supermarket on the other side of the street. Which is just a Taj.
Basically, the Prince Regent who later became King George IV was a very, very fat man (corsets going up to 50 inches in circumference, though whether that is before or after tightening isn’t made clear) with very fat tastes.
He suffered from severe gout, and was told by his physicians the same thing all physicians said at the time. Get some sea water on it. Good for the soul.
So he did.
He came to Brighton in 1783, and bought a farmhouse on the Old Steine so he had somewhere to stay and get the seawater and the attention of his mistress-wife, the renowned Mrs Fitzherbert.
Over the years, he did the place up a bit. With the help of a certain John Nash.
And he treated his home improvements with the same attitude he took his eating. Rather gluttonously.
As I understand it, he was probably too fat to go to India, China and the rest of the far east, but he liked the look of it. Or, more likely, liked the idea of showing off how worldly he was. It’s exoticism in extremis.
So he made his palace an Indian one, or perhaps a parody of one. Decking out the indoors with fabulously kitsch representations of more Chinese imagery and décor on the inside.
There’s a fabulousness there. As in fabula and fable. It’s not a realistic representation, but more of a folly.
Decadent kitsch, taken to it’s furthest limits. Rebuilding a version of far off palaces on your doorstep. As a holiday home. Little more than a beach hut. With a little added pomp and circumstance.
It’s pretty horrific, really. To spend a fortune idolising a foreign land that you are simultaneously occupying and exploiting, in the name of civilisation. To recognise the beauty and wonder of a culture whilst your representatives build up enough infrastructure to claim it as empire.
I might be fudging the dates a little, but it shouldn’t be seen as a shining example of multiculturalism in action. Because it wasn’t.
It was just a fat man showing off at the expense of his nation.
But it certainly looks pretty. A modern marvel, if only for it’s oddity. Sitting where it does today, with cars driving past, hotels down the road, supermarkets nearby, and huge glass monstrosities being built opposite, it looks a little out of place.
There’s room for appreciation of the majesty of it. Perhaps even admiration of the sheer gumption involved in dolling up your holiday house to such extremes.
It is good that it now belongs to the city. And it’s gardens are one of my favourite summertime haunts.
It is a very Brighton thing. I wonder how much of Brighton’s reputation is built upon this grand absurdity.
And a great tribute to our fat selfish royals.
Illustration by Anna-Kaisa.