Are we, one wonders, heading for a Scandinavian monarchy when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge inherit the British throne? Prince George’s christening in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace was so low key you half expected to hear that Mrs Middleton and the Duchess of Cornwall had made the cucumber sandwiches in the Clarence House kitchens the night before: ‘right Carol, forty baps. You slice and I’ll spread’.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took precisely an hour out of their day to attend the christening and were the only senior royals apart from the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry to attend. We had a full quota of Middletons, zero royal godparents and no extras from church or state except for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London who was wearing a cassock embellishment that looked suspiciously like a portrait of the mad monk Rasputin.
The whole affair was terribly beige from the Duchess of Cambridge’s McQueen ruffled coat and Jane Taylor titfer to Prince George’s christening gown: a copy of the gown first worn by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Princess Vicky in 1840 that is now too fragile and has been retired to the realm of acid-free tissue paper and curator’s gloves. The Queen added colour in a rather marvellous Mediterranean sky blue Stewart Parvin coat and wore the Cartier basket brooch bought by her father King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to celebrate the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.
One could get ever so slightly tired of the ‘we’ll do it our own way’ message emanating from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s press office. There are shades of the Conservative party’s disingenuous and disastrous ‘we’re all in this together’ about a privileged couple playing modest young marrieds when they live in the palatial Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace. The LK Bennett court at KP isn’t going to play that well to the crowds who inevitably want tiaras and full decorations not high street heels and Boden pullies.
I would agree that St. James’s is a magical place; still the senior royal palace in London and the mise-en-scene for the royal couple’s engagement. As the papers have not tired of pointing out, it was to the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace that the late Diana, Princess of Wales’s coffin was brought before her Semi-State funeral. Royal christenings are private affairs and it would have been highly inappropriate to let light (or press) into this sacred ceremony. But God forbid the snap everyone is waiting for – Her Majesty with three successive generations of kings-in-waiting – is taken by Mr Middleton and developed at Snappy Snaps.
I’ve learned an awful lot about St. James’s Palace while researching the Royal St. James’s book such as ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor’s heart being buried underneath the choir stalls in the Chapel Royal. It was she who lost England’s last territory in France, Calais, and said when she died that ‘Calais will be written on my heart’. It must have given her half-sister Elizabeth I pause for thought when praying in the Chapel Royal as the Spanish Armada, commanded by Queen Mary’s husband Philip II, approached English shores in 1588.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge do have to declare their independence and appeal to a young generation so it’s rather mean to be overly critical. They seem jolly enough coves and modesty becomes both of them. They can’t afford to be too ‘red carpet’ and smartly ration their appearances at ritzy soirees on the London social scene. It does appear that both the Duke and Duchess are upping their royal duties even with the newborn and it would be churlish to suggest they haven’t become a major asset for Britain.
Tonight La Farmer, Mr Bowering and I are off to the opening of the refurbished Bonhams’ sale rooms on New Bond Street. It should be rather a smart party and I think we’re decamping to Andrew Edmunds’ club The Academy on Lexington Street for sups. I do adore the Academy. It is a last vestige of old Soho; shabby upstairs rooms in a sooty Georgian townhouse that I believe might have been a tenement block sub-let by tailors in the late 19th century. I’ve been researching an interesting scandal of 1892 involving a sweatshop trouser-maker employed by one Savile Row’s royal tailors.
When you come across a story like that it sparks ideas for either a full-scale history book or a novel based on fact. I spent most of the week researching the Savile Row sweating scandal in the National Newspaper Archives files and it is a rich seam of history on the tail end of the Ripper murders (relevant because the tailoresses down on their luck supplemented income as ladies of the night) and the Cleveland Street scandal. There were also some fascinating characters as guv’nors of Mayfair tailoring houses at the time who belong in a novel. Until next time…