March, 2011

Mar 11

Hooray for Harry

Ask anyone in the royal press pack who is their favourite member of the Queen’s family and most will probably nominate Prince Harry.

Here’s just one reason why. Last June when Prince William and Prince Harry went to southern Africa we went to cover the fun, frolics and the fantastic work they both do for their charities down there.

Botswana was the fun part – When we went to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve they both put on a show for the photographers, wrapping an enormous python around their necks.

prince-harry-william-snake-z.jpgPrankster Harry was first to let the snake coil around his body, then grabbed its head and turned it towards a protesting William. Harry’s horseplay gave us one of the best pictures of the tour, so I’ll bet William’s stag party last weekend, with his brother calling the shots, was a real riot.

On the African trip William wanted to show his brother the work he does for the Tusk Trust saving endangered species like elephant and rhino, and Harry regularly has holidays in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, so is just as passionate about its wildlife.

We were all having a great laugh until we flew on to Lesotho where Harry showed William why he set up his charity Sentebale (which means ‘Forget Me Not’) which cares for orphaned children in a country where AIDs has made life expectancy just 34 years. That’s when the jokes stopped and the serious work began.

While meeting some of these youngsters, both princes were asked to write down their secret dreams. William joked around, scribbling nothing very revealing but Harry wrote words straight from his heart.


prince-harry-children-z.jpgHe wrote,’ I want to live in Africa’ and that he dreamed of becoming ‘a wildlife photographer.’

That’s typically Harry, always open and honest. What you see is what you get. William, not surprisingly, is more guarded.

In Africa both brothers were more relaxed than usual. They loved being together because their Armed Forces careers mean they see little of each other now.

It was the first official tour the Princes had done together, and, sadly, I now suspect it will be the last.

Once William is married he will tour with his new wife Kate and Harry will be left to carry on alone. Well, have you ever seen the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York on a trip abroad together lately?

The third in line to the throne now becomes Britain’s hottest bachelor with scores of Harry Hunters prowling London nightspots hoping to hook him.

But I suspect the only girl he really cares about is Chelsy Davy and that is not just because she is a gorgeous, brainy blonde. Zimbabwean-born Chelsy’s father runs a safari company so she has shared unforgettable holidays with Harry in unspoiled areas of southern Africa.


prince-harry-chelsy-davy-z.jpgChelsy is the unpretentious type who would genuinely rather be roughing it on a camping trip in Namibia than hanging out at Mahiki.

She gets homesick for the sunshine and vast empty spaces of her homeland, and who can blame her? Harry feels the same. For a prince living under the fierce spotlight forever focussed on the royal family, Africa means real freedom, a dream come true.

When William has children of his own, Harry, like his uncle Prince Andrew, will drop further down the line of succession and, unless he finds a meaningful role for himself, will be surplus to the Crown’s requirements.

So, my secret dream is that one day Harry will get a job that requires him to live for extended periods in southern Africa. He isn’t destined to be king, so why not let him lead the life he really yearns for?

Mar 11

Something to remember

Forget about that glittering ceremony at Westminster Abbey on April 29. Let’s talk about what really matters – the wedding memorabilia.

Of course, there are a few mugs bearing pictures of William and Kate with the place and date, but the only one I’d like to buy is the wonderfully naff one featuring Harry‘s face instead of his brother’s. The Chinese designer who created that really is a big mug.


Apart from that, I haven’t seen much that I would like to keep and hand down to my future grandchildren.

Prince Charles’ online Highgrove shop is selling a William and Kate jigsaw for £29.95 but I know I would lose vital pieces of it within a few weeks, so it’s not for me.

Moorcroft have produced a traditional vase costing £480 ($770.45) which is a bit outside most people’s budgets and it doesn’t even feature the bridal couple, just a floral design.
No, I am looking for something that screams ‘royal wedding‘, preferably something out of the ordinary.


I hear that the Potteries are busy churning out commemorative tankards and plates, but I don’t want any of those. Something more fun is what I had in mind.

A German company has been producing royal tea bags for some time featuring the Queen’s head on cardboard arms extending on either side of a cup with the teabag dangling beneath in the hot water.

The manufacturers Donkey Products GmbH & Co. have now issued ‘Katea (geddit?) and William’ teabags which I can’t save for the future as I note on the packaging the words ‘Best before 2.2014′.

A friend of mine was given a pair of woolly gloves for her birthday last week. On one hand was embroidered the name Kate and on the other the word Wills. They are cute and cosy but as I regularly lose gloves within days of buying them, I suspect these would be a waste of money for me.

Thirty years ago it was so different when Charles and Diana got married. I remember a few of my journalist colleagues joined me on a visit to the Design Centre in London and we were really spoiled for choice.

To this day I still cherish several 1981 royal wedding items which I bought there. I especially love a mug in the shape of Prince Charles’ head, with one ear as the handle.
Inscribed on the side of his face is a short poem by the renowned wit, critic and TV presenter Clive James. It goes like this:
‘Whatever beverage brims in this cup
Thank God and Prince Charles when you pick it up.
And as you quaff it bless that same Grand Planner
Who gave him for a bride the fair Diana.’

Well, that marriage didn’t last but the cup has. I heard recently that it is now worth upwards of £70 and I paid less than a fiver.

I also cherish a game I can only describe as a sort of solitaire. It features a circular board on which is a drawing of Charles and Diana in evening dress. Scattered on its surface are 17 fake diamonds which you jiggle until they drop into small holes forming a tiara on Diana’s head, her earrings, and shiny epaulettes on the Prince’s shoulders.

It has helped me to waste many happy hours over the past three decades, although I have never managed to get every single ‘diamond’ into its correct spot.


Doubt if I’ll ever find something like that this year but I am quite keen on five royal wedding plates with jokey messages such as IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME and THANKS FOR THE DAY OFF.

I’m just off to Hoxton Square London to get some now at the KK Outlet shop!

Mar 11

That Dress!

I am getting rather worried about Kate Middleton. She must be under a tremendous amount of pressure created by all the speculation (and I confess I’m guilty of this) about her wedding dress.

Of all the royal weddings I have covered, starting in 1981, not one has kept the name of the wedding dress designer a secret as Kate has.

Diana had the Emanuels, Fergie chose Lindka Cierach and Sophie Rhys-Jones used Samantha Shaw.

So we knew well in advance who had been selected to create the bride’s frock and there was a lot of interest but nothing like the feverish anticipation surrounding this one.

Will it really be Sarah Burton of McQueen, or was that leak a red herring? Will this frock put Britain back on top of the fashion world? Or, will some snooty European designers and fashionistas say Kate’s choice, which she has reportedly helped to design, is a big disappointment?

All this must be incredibly stressful for a girl who has so many other things to worry about right now. As well as preparing for the world’s biggest wedding and her new role as William’s princess, she also has to get organized for her first tour abroad in July – traveling right across Canada for ten days. Each day she will have to wear something comfortable, something appropriate and something that will delight her fans. Phew!

Behind the scenes she also has a lot of last minute paperwork and planning to do. There will be hundreds of thank-you notes to write to those who have sent gifts or just good wishes.

She has to buy presents for her bridesmaids and a million other matters to sort out. Getting married is an ordeal for any girl, never mind one whose wedding will be a TV satellite spectacular viewed by billions around the globe.

So, just multiply the stress of planning an ordinary family’s wedding by around a thousand and you may understand how Kate is feeling. Of course, she has staff to help but the decisions will be all hers and William’s.

By keeping the designer’s name a secret she has saved him/her from unbearable scrutiny. The Emanuels had to cover their windows to prevent paparazzi trying to see what they were creating and Lindka Cierach reported similar problems.

All I know is THE DRESS is not being made at Buckingham Palace. A senior royal source assures me of this.

I seem to recall that the Queen’s sister the late Princess Margaret surprised everyone at her 1960 weddding (I wasn’t around to cover that one) by wearing a starkly plain dress. No lace, no embroidery, no nothin’, just a design that emphasised her tiny waist.

By doing so she focussed attention on her stunningly lovely face and she made a point we should all remember. A wedding dress is supposed to be a supporting player not the star attraction!

So, whatever Kate wears she will look gorgeous. And I’m sure Prince William agrees with me.

If she sticks to her elegant, classic style her dress won’t overwhelm her the way Diana’s did. It also won’t soon look out of date. Those wedding pictures will be endlessly published around the globe for years so something stylish but timeless is called for, I think.

Kate is a clever woman, so, I suspect she has two dresses being made right now – one to wow us in the morning and a totally different one to wear in the evening at the dinner for friends and family at Buckingham Palace. Two dresses equals double the stress!

Mar 11

Safety first?

Pay attention, all you fashion naysayers! I have an urgent request – Can you please stop ripping Kate Middleton apart at the seams?

Her clothes are too ‘safe'; you claim, which is just another way of saying boring. Or, as a Sunday Times columnist claimed last weekend, her style is ‘dangerously close to Boden-land.’


Vivienne Westwood, with whom I did her first national newspaper interview when she was Queen of the King’s Road, was even worse. “I would love to have dressed Kate Middleton,’ she sniped, “But I have to wait until she kind of catches up a bit somewhere with style.”


Even a report that Kate has chosen Sarah Burton, creative director of avant garde fashion house Alexander McQueen, to design her wedding dress, hasn’t stopped the comments.

Apparently the fashion industry is extremely disappointed in our Kate. Editors at  Paris Fashion Week are said to be holding their heads in their hands at the thought of Kate as an ambassador for British fashion.

Simply because, she studiously ignores the cool and edgy (some would say freaky) clothes that appear on the catwalks and sticks to classic styles.

They argue that image is everything and Kate is letting the side down. How little they know her.

Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, 29, is one very clever cookie. She must surely be aware that Princess Diana was for many years regarded as a mere clotheshorse. The wonderful work she did was often overlooked because the media reported only what she was wearing, not what she was doing. Often Diana didn’t wear her clothes, they wore her! It took years before she was taken seriously, managed to change her shallow image and win support for AIDs sufferers and the victims of landmines.

Kate also knows that to swan around like a fashion victim in expensive designer creations would not go down well at a time when everyone else is tightening their M&S belts. So she recycles outfits, switching jackets, shortening coats and constantly wearing her favourite black suede boots, while still managing to look simply stunning.

Many years ago when I was just starting out on my royal reporting career, a wise old mentor told me one reason the Queen was such a crowd-pleaser was her wardrobe.

My friend said, “All her clothes are couture, made from the finest fabrics, but they look like she could have bought them on the High Street. They don’t look extravagant and they don’t incite envy.”

Whether this is by accident or design really doesn’t matter. It simply means that the Queen has always avoided the Marie Antoinette tag. I have since learned that she often digs out fabrics given to her more than 40 years ago and has new outfits made. She is famously frugal when it comes to spending tax payers’ money on her official life.

At this early stage of her royal career Kate must also be careful not to overshadow her more important other half. Princess Diana did and look what happened to her marriage. I seem to remember that Kate can rock the frocks when she wants to, especially in the evening.

Remember that slinky, peach halter-neck gown she wore to the Boodles Boxing Ball in 2008? Or the elegant grey one she wore to the Starlight charity evening at the Saatchi Gallery?

Leave the poor girl alone and let her create her own special look. So, sheath those long claws at least until we see what she dazzles us with on her wedding day.

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