|>>|| No. 14414
When Charles entertained at home, everything was geared to his own habits and convenience. Dinner would be served to guests at 8pm, but he wouldn’t arrive until 8.15pm, because he’d decided against eating a first course. It was fine, therefore, for dinner guests to start without him. Not at breakfast, though: visitors to Highgrove were cautioned by Camilla not to begin eating before the Prince appeared.
He was also unusually particular about his gardens at Highgrove. Because he refused to use pesticides, he employed four gardeners who would lie, nose-down, on a trailer pulled by a slow-moving Land Rover to pluck out weeds. In addition, retired Indian servicemen were deployed to prowl through the undergrowth at night with torches and handpick slugs from the leaves of plants.
Charles also gave rein to extravagance in his office, where he employed an individual private secretary for each of his interests — including the charities, architecture, complementary medicine and the environment.
And anyone visiting the office at St James’s Palace would be escorted to it by no fewer than three footmen, each responsible for a short segment of corridor.
A weekend with the Prince at Sandringham, meanwhile, can be a decidedly odd experience. One group of writers and journalists, invited five years ago, arrived to find that each of them had been assigned a servant.
Friday after dinner was listed as a cinema night. The chosen film was Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, depicting upstairs/downstairs life to an audience surrounded by the reality of that social order. The film became a regular feature of Charles’s culture weekends. Michael Fawcett, the Prince’s former valet and fixer, supervised the placing of chairs in front of a screen in the ballroom. In the front row were two throne-like armchairs for Charles and Camilla.
Soon everyone was seated, and servants entered with silver platters of ice cream. The film started. Charles and Camilla instantly fell asleep, and the ice cream slowly melted away.
On Saturday, the guests took a walk with Charles, during which he spoke about his belief in a sustainable environment. They were careful to avoid debate: their host, they had been cautioned, was easily offended.
‘People think I’m bonkers, crackers,’ Charles groaned suddenly, in the middle of a field. ‘Do you think I’m mad?’ he asked, in a manner that forbade a positive reply.
The two-hour walk ended back at the house, where the guests were served tea.
‘Right, we’re off,’ Charles announced, striding out of the house after a quick cup. Jumping into his Aston Martin, he drove at breakneck speed down narrow, twisting lanes, reassured that police motorcyclists had cleared other traffic.
His guests followed in a fleet of gleaming Land Rovers, arriving at Charles’s local church in time to hear a short concert.