Getting to know... Victoria and Albert Museum

Find out more about the five Museum of the Year finalists with our Q&As. This time the V&A talks fashion greats, staying up late and a bed that fits eight.

Name: Victoria and Albert Museum

Age: I was first established in 1852 but built in 1857 which makes me around 159 years old – although I am sure you would never have guessed it as I am constantly being renovated as part of the FuturePlan programme. In the past 10 years, over 70% of my public spaces have been transformed, improving access and allowing the collections to be more elegantly and intelligently displayed.

Describe yourself in three words: Inspiring, beautiful, free.

What’s new with you? At the end of 2015, an entirely new suite of seven galleries were created for the redisplay of my unrivalled collection of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design. In 2017, I will be opening a grand new entrance on Exhibition Road, providing a new access point for my visitors. This will boast a magnificent courtyard – the world’s first in porcelain – and a purpose-built gallery for temporary exhibitions.

What is your most treasured possession? I house many objects of beauty and curiosity, but The Great Bed of Ware is probably the single best-known object. Famously over three metres wide, it is the only known example of a bed of this size, and is reputedly able to accommodate at least four couples! Constructed in around 1590, it was probably made as a tourist attraction for an inn in Ware, Hertfordshire. Visitors often carved their initials or applied red wax seals on the bedposts and headboard, and these are still visible today. In fact it became so famous that Sir Toby Belch describes a sheet of paper as '... big enough for the Bed of Ware!' in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Who’s been your most famous visitor? Many famous faces have come to say hello over the years, from the late inspirational architect Zaha Hadid to the pop superstar Lady Gaga, and the Queen of England HRH Queen Elizabeth.

Is there a museum/gallery pet? Sadly not. However, Sir Henry Cole's dog Jim, and another 'faithful dog' Tycho, were buried in The John Madejski garden, where you can still see plaques commemorating them.

I shouldn't leave without experiencing... No visit is complete without a trip to my café, designed by the greats William Morris, Poynter and Gamble, for tea and cake. Did you know that I was the first museum in the world to provide a public restaurant?

What’s been your biggest success? My Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition last year was a real record-breaker, visited by over 493,000 people from all over the world. This was such a feat that I went for the last two weekends without sleep, staying open day and night to allow as many of my wonderful visitors as possible the chance to see it.

You have a museum crush on... All the Museum of the Year finalists, I am proud to be in such great company.

You’re most happy when… People are being inspired by my rich and diverse collections, whether in my galleries or one of my touring exhibitions around the world, researching in my archives or online.

What do you most like about your appearance? I don’t mean to boast but the best thing about me, and there are many, has to be the seven miles of free galleries that I have. I love giving visitors the chance to explore my many galleries and get lost in all the inspirational art on offer.

And dislike? Sometimes people emerge with aching feet having walked those seven miles, but all worth it in the name of art and design!

This year you’re excited about... I am looking forward to our immersive exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records & Rebels 1966-70, which will explore the explosion of youth culture in the late 1960s with a riot of colour and sound. Other exciting highlights include Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, the largest medieval embroidery exhibition in a lifetime with treasures gathered from around the world.

If you were named Museum of the Year you would... Be immensely proud of all of our wonderful visitors and staff who make me who I am.

Venue details

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) Cromwell Road Greater London SW7 2RL 020 7942 2000

Entry details

50% off with National Art Pass

Daily, 10am 5.45pm (Fri until 10pm)

Tags: Museums and galleriesmuseum-of-the-year