Halifax woman who became royal fashion expert at Kensington Palace is remembered

Deirdre Murphy spent her days absorbed in the elaborate clothing that once graced royal shoulders, but her friends say she always found a way to bring the monarchy down to earth.

Deirdre Murphy, who was senior curator at Kensington Palace, died in May at age 42

Deirdre Murphy lived in London but always had a special place in her heart for Nova Scotia. (Deirdre Murphy/Facebook)

Deirdre Murphy spent her days absorbed in the elaborate clothing that once graced royal shoulders. 

She rubbed elbows with Queen Elizabeth and travelled the world giving lectures on the fashion of kings and queens. But her friends say she always found a way to bring the monarchy down to earth. 

The senior curator at Kensington Palace, who had strong ties to Halifax, N.S., died of cancer in May. She was 42.

On Thursday, Murphy's friends and family gathered in Halifax to celebrate her life. 

"She was always looking for the things that, you know, didn't turn people off of that crazy world of monarchy that she was a part of," her friend Amanda Burt told CBC's Information Morning.

Murphy was endlessly curious about even the smallest details, Burt said, whether it was how the 11th Duke of Devonshire kept his converse sneakers so perfectly white or Prince Albert's poor choice of hat in the 1800s.

Trusted by the queen

Murphy was born in Montreal, but moved with her family to Halifax when she was a child. She later studied history at Dalhousie University.

In 2001, she moved to London for a master's degree, and eventually became the senior curator at Kensington Palace, where she worked for 15 years.

In that role, she was responsible for thousands of items of priceless clothing, and curated several exhibits featuring the gowns of Queen Victoria and Princess Diana. 

In addition to being the curator of Kensington Palace, Murphy was chair of the Costume Society of Great Britain. (Nobu Adilman)

Burt recalls seeing a photo of Murphy explaining Queen Victoria's dresses to the queen herself. 

"Not only is she the expert, but the queen and that whole team of the royal palaces and all those people, trusted her to protect what their history is but also make it modern and make it accessible to everyone else," Burt said. 

Murphy's friend Catherine Stockhausen said she always had a special place in her heart for Nova Scotia.

The queen ... trusted her to protect what their history is but also make it modern ...- Amanda Burt, friend

Her "happy place" was a cottage in Hubbards where she hoped to return this summer.

"She was really, really looking toward the goal of coming back to that cottage here this summer, which she wasn't able to do but her family's there right now and we're going to go out there," Stockhausen said. "It's just a very, very special place for her and therefore for us."

Stockhausen and Burt say their friend was brave, curious and pushed those she loved to step outside their comfort zones.

Burt said she's been hearing from people all over the world who knew and loved Murphy. 

"She was just this glowing diamond," Burt said.

Royal fashion expert Deirdre Murphy died in May at the age of 42. Two friends remark on her legacy on the eve of a celebration of life in her honour in Halifax. 8:36

Murphy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. In January, doctors told her the cancer had spread.

The very next day she went to the library in London and started working on a new a book about the life of Queen Victoria, Burt said. 

She managed to finish much of the book, and the palace finished the rest. It's expected to be published by Yale University Press next year to mark the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth.

A book and scholarships will continue Deirdre Murphy's legacy. (Nobu Adilman)

The palace and Costume Society of Great Britain have also set up scholarships in Murphy's name. 

"Deirdre has a real legacy, and even for us who knew her and talked to her all the time and knew about all her work that she was doing, the stuff that's going to come out in her honour after her passing, is really remarkable," Burt said.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from CBC's Information Morning