HELLO I’ve been back in London for a few days. Meetings, seeing friends, celebrating being back into red wine season again and a couple of book launches (one for the very wonderful Laurie Graham who I must have told you about before on here? Start with Gone with The Windsors if you don’t know her and consider yourself lucky you have her whole back catalogue ahead of you). The second was Nicholas Coleridge’s exceptionally glamorous launch at the V&A for his memoir The Glossy Years. My flat is currently on the market and, just as I was leaving for this party last night, I realised I’d jumped in my car but left my heels inside and was wearing a manky pair of old trainers. Trouble was, the estate agent was already hovering outside my flat with a lady who was coming to see it and I didn’t want to interrupt them. So off I went to the party in my repellent plimsols.
Ah also on Sunday I went away with my friend Iz who has an eight-month-old and needed her first night away from him, so we stayed at the wonderful Calcot Manor for a break and managed to watch the entire series of Unbelievable (Netflix) while eating pistachios and drinking champagne in bed. Can’t recommend it enough, although I’m reasonably late to the party here as it’s been v widely reviewed.
Yesterday’s Standard column HERE. And Sunday’s Tel column singing the praises of Sandringham below. Am off to Henley Literary Festival today, on at 6.30pm. Come if you’re nearby! I’m a bit worried about my footwear but hopefully won’t be in the same old trainers. Gumboots, potentially, given the weather.
Don’t panic because you can’t Thomas Cook it, go to Sandringham instead. The North Norfolk climate might not be the same as Zakynthos, I grant you, and there are fewer kebabs. But small quibbles aside, I visited the Queen’s Norfolk residence last weekend and can report that it was a glorious and wholly uplifting experience.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been personally invited. Tickets cost £17.50 (but you’d probably spend that on a bottle of ouzo at the airport anyway), and give you access to the house, gardens and an audio guide should you wish. I detest audio guides – how many greasy heads have they adorned before you? – and strongly recommend ditching them here because there are staff in each room who are desperate to impart their knowledge. No sooner had my friend Clare and I stepped into the first room – the wood-panelled ‘salon’ –then up popped a guide telling us about a three-generation photo of Edward VII, George V and a small Edward VIII in a sailor’s outfit. A troop of Japanese tourists walked past glued to the screen of their audio guide, not remotely looking around them at the room. Meanwhile, Clare and I stood chatting to our new friend as I told him I always get my Berties and my Edwards confused.
It was the same as we progressed. Wonderful little details everywhere – furious photos of Queen Mary, whole cabinets of guns that belonged to Bertie (or was it Edward?), a coffee table book on gnomes – and staff who sang like canaries.
In the dining room, the table was laid as if dinner would be served any second. Menus at each place setting stated that it was to be crayfish tails and a poached egg, followed by Windsor lamb and summer pudding. ‘That was for His Highness the Prince of Wales a couple of months ago,’ said a hovering member of staff, ‘but of course if the Queen was here it would be in French, as with all her menus.’ I appreciate this might not be a life-changing fact for you but I found the fact that our Queen has her menus in French pretty fascinating.
As for the ballroom, tacked on at the order of Bertie’s wife Alexandra (or did she marry an Edward?), I learned that the current Royals settle down on sofas and use it as their private cinema. The guide pointed at the projector above our heads. Has the family watched The Crown in here, I ventured. Alas he was too discrete to tell. But who needs the nightlife of Fuerteventura, eh?
In the nearby museum, passing corgi gravestones on the way, I saw the Queen Mother’s racing buggy and Queen Victoria’s wheelchair. Surprisingly small for such a bottom.
The gift shop was also splendid. I bought several boxes of Sandringham shortbread and two tins of Meghan and Kate breakfast tea as presents. Clare bought sheets of Sandringham lavender paper so her knicker drawer could be Royally scented.
While writing a piece about the nearby ‘Turnip Toffs’, I was once told by a Norfolk grandee that Sandringham was ‘the ugliest house in Britain’ which is grossly unfair and only goes to show he’s never been to Sandbanks. My visit was a trip in every sense of the word. Ahead of a turbulent news week, here was stability and order. Here was a house where we could gawp at stern-faced Royals through the decades. Here was an oak tree planted by Queen Victoria herself. And here was a coffee shop where we could sit and eat a slice of Cherry Bakewell. Curiously reassuring.
On other Royal matters, I’m keenly anticipating the new book which the Queen’s dresser, Angela Kelly, has been authorised to write. I don’t imagine it’s going to be full of salacious detail like poor old Crawfie the nanny’s book, but what I’d really like confirmed is the rumour that Ms Kelly breaks in Her Majesty’s shoes since their feet are the same size. That, for me, is the definition of luxury – being so grand that someone makes your hateful new shoes comfortable. Imagine not having to worry about blisters! I’ve spent a zillion pounds on Compeed plasters in the past decade, stuffing them in my clutch bag for every party or wedding where I’ve braved a new pair of heels. I’m size 8, if anyone’s looking for a different role. No verruca-suffers need apply.
Getting used to living in the country part 492. A Norfolk friend invites me to her birthday party. I ring to find out the dress code and she howls down the phone at the very idea of such a thing. ‘Alright, but should I wear a dress?’ I ask. More howling. ‘Do not wear a dress because you will look like a d**k and everyone will laugh,’ she advises, before adding. ‘I will probably be in dungarees.’ I settle on jeans and a ‘nice’ shirt and arrive to find she is indeed wearing dungarees. I like Norfolk more and more.