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Queen reopens British Museum gallery, 25 years after unveiling original

The Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia has been restored and renovated.

The Queen undertook one of her first public engagements since her private estate became caught up in the Paradise Papers leak, as she opened a refurbished gallery at the British Museum.

Wearing a Stewart Parvin magenta double-breasted cashmere coat and a red flower posy brooch, she toured the newly restored and renovated Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia.

Chairman of the British Museum trustees, Sir Richard Lambert, said the first phase of the reopening, with the rest of the gallery set to be fully open to the public from December 14, was a “huge moment” for the museum and the “culmination of a lot of work”.

The Queen with Sir Richard Lambert, chairman of the trustees of the British Museum (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

“It is a really important gallery for us because we get millions of visitors here every year from China and Asia – and it is beautiful,” he said.

On what it was like to show the Queen around the refurbished gallery, Sir Richard said it was “wonderful” and noted that she was “really interested in it”.

“She loved the Silk Road display with the horse, and she spent a lot of time in the Ming display. What was thrilling was, she was really engaged and interested in the objects.”

It was 25 years ago, in 1992, when the Queen first unveiled the original gallery.

During her visit on Wednesday, the Queen, who is a keen rider and horse lover, could be seen marvelling at a couple of horse statues from the Tang Dynasty.

After being refurbished and revamped, the gallery now features new displays telling the stories of China and the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal from 5000 BC to the present day.

(Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

Sir Joseph Hotung, who donated money to help cover the cost of the renovation work, said the reopening of the gallery was “very exciting, very magnificent”.

During the visit he also showed the Queen around the jades gallery, which contains his personal collection currently on loan to the museum.

“That was a real treat, I didn’t think she would be that interested and spend that much time there. But she did, she walked along much further than I thought she would,” Sir Joseph said.

(Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

He said the Queen was impressed by a Neolithic jade pommel – a decorative item which is placed on the handle of a sword, and asked lots of pertinent questions about the items on display.

Before she left the engagement, the Queen also cut the ribbon on a marble oculus in the centre of the gallery, which carries a dedication to mark the date of its reopening.

She was left amused and slightly surprised after the sheet covering the raised hole between two floors, following a brief pause, was whipped away to reveal the gold leaf inscription.

Founded in 1753, the British Museum in central London was the first national public museum in the world.

The Queen’s engagement comes in the week which saw her private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, become embroiled in the Paradise Papers leak.

The leak disclosed that the Duchy was reported to have had £10 million invested in offshore funds.

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