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Not in Front of the Corgis

Brian Hoey

Prince Charles employs 133 staff to look after him and Camilla, more than 60 of them domestics: chefs, cooks, footmen, housemaids, gardeners, chauffeurs, cleaners, and his three personal valets—gentleman’s gentlemen—whose sole responsibility is the care of their royal master’s extensive wardrobe and choosing what he is to wear on any particular day. A serving soldier polishes the prince’s boots and shoes every day—he has 50 handmade pairs each costing over £800 by Lobb of St James’s—and a housemaid washes his underwear as soon as it is discarded. Nothing Charles or Camilla wears is ever allowed near a washing machine. Particular attention is paid to handkerchiefs, which are monogrammed and again all hand-washed, as it was found that when they were sent to a laundry, some would go missing—as souvenirs. HRH’s suits, of which he has 60, cost more than £3,000 each, and his shirts, all handmade, cost £350 a time (he has more than 200), while his collar stiffeners are solid gold or silver. Charles’s valets also iron the laces of his shoes whenever they are taken off.

William Tallon, page of the backstairs for the late queen mother, and his lifelong friend Reg Wilcock, page of the presence, were openly gay. The queen mother, like most of the royal family, was relaxed about their relationship. On one occasion, her majesty was waiting for her usual gin and Dubonnet, when she heard sounds of a loud argument coming from the page’s pantry. Finally losing her patience she shouted, “When you two old queens have quite finished, this old Queen would like her cocktail.” After Tallon’s death, a handwritten note from the queen mother asking him to pack two bottles of Dubonnet and gin for a picnic fetched £16,000.

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There has always been an unofficial popularity “league table” within the royal household of whom the servants prefer working for. Top is Prince Philip. Prince Edward is considered by the household to be the most pompous member of the royal family, insisting on absolute formality at all times. He once was said to have reprimanded a butler because the man was not outside the house when he arrived and Edward had to open the car door himself. His chauffeur is instructed to face forward at all times, even when the car is stopped.

The Queen banks with London bank Coutts and Co. but no longer writes personal checks because people had a habit of not cashing them, preferring to keep them as mementoes, which caused chaos in the royal accounts. The queen mother was said to have died with an overdraft at Coutts of more than £2 million; it was settled by her daughter.

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The Prince of Wales is particular about everything. He enjoys cheese and biscuits to end a meal, with both coming from his Duchy of Cornwall estate. He likes his biscuits to be served at a special temperature, and the staff keep a warming pan just to maintain them at the perfect level.

In one corner of Buckingham Palace’s White Drawing Room is a large full-size mirror, and when a function is being held, a footman is stationed alongside. At a signal he presses a button and the mirror swings open to reveal the royal family, who have been waiting in the Royal Closet, a small drawing room hidden behind the mirror, where they have their own pre-function drinks: gin and Dubonnet for the queen, whiskey and soda for Prince Philip, Coke or orange juice for Princess Anne.

One of the reasons the queen and her husband bed down in separate rooms is that Philip sleeps with his windows wide open whatever the weather and temperature. He has never used a hot-water bottle in his life.

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