~ Posted by Robert Butler, November 28th 2012

The Natural History Museum in London has a collection of 7m specimens, but a new permanent exhibition (which is free) displays just 22 objects. The "Treasures" in the Cadogan Gallery—which used to be the canteen—include a Neanderthal skull, a dodo skeleton, a moon rock from the last Apollo space mission (about 3.7 billion years old), a dwarf-elephant tooth, an emperor-penguin egg and Charles Darwin's pigeons. The exhibition opens this Friday, but a grand preview took place last night and the great auk and Guy the gorilla found themselves competing for attention with a new global celebrity.

More than 350 people, including many of the great and the good, gathered around the skeleton of the large diplodocus in the central hall, where they drank champagne and blackberry gin and tonics. Waiters in tunics served morsels of lamb cutlets with pickled fennel, salmon confit, guinea fowl with spiced lentils and seabass with kelp risotto. The hubbub of conversation ("You're an old rocker, did you go to the Stones last night?") drowned out the female string quartet determinedly playing Mozart.

After an hour, a middle-aged man and a young woman descended the main staircase decorated with four large vases of flowers. It might have been a dad taking his demure daughter to her graduation ceremony. This was Dr Michael Dixon, director of the museum, wearing a dark suit and red tie, and the Duchess of Cambridge, wearing—as the Dail Mail reported today—a  £1,400 emerald-green silk Mulberry dress, "buttoned high, belted at the waist and gathered at the wrists creating a balloon sleeve". As Dr Dixon spoke, the Duchess stood to one side, her hands clasped in front of her, repeatedly flicking the fringe away from her eyes and biting her lower lip. The fringe was an event in itself. Today BBC Radio 4 reported that her new retro hairstyle was a return to the 1970s and "Charlie's Angels".

The Duchess made a brief speech, saying: "William and I are just two of millions of people who have passed through these doors, and marvelled at the spectacular wonders of the natural world." Then she pulled back some small grey curtains to unveil a plaque, and was gone.

Robert Butler is online editor of
Intelligent Life