- To see the house where Prince Charles and Camilla live. Many other royals, including the Queen Mother, have lived there as well, of course.
- To meet new friends.
I succeeded wildly in both my aims and while I won’t bore you with names, addresses and telephone numbers of my new besties, I will tell you a bit about what I saw.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the gardens or the interior, so you’ll have to envision it through my excellent wordplay and photos I’ve (not always successfully) grabbed off the net.
Here we go!
To begin, you’d never believe that Clarence House is in the heart of London. Once we went through the requisite security scanning (how sad is that?) in the courtyard, we left behind the noise of the tourists, the cars and the buzzing of activity. It was all peace and tranquility inside the garden, except for the voices of 20 Canadian women, chattering at the same time.
We had a guide, who informed us we were to stand only on the beige carpeting inside – any violations thereof, and I’m not entirely sure of the consequences. Luckily, we’re all obedient and polite Canadians, and nary a toe wandered off the beige.
Our guide pointed to a tree to our right, where the Queen Mother used to hold grand picnics like this one.
Given the dodgy weather here, her staff knew that it would take 20 minutes for any rain to make its way from the uppermost leaf to the table below, which gave them enough time to pack everything up and whisk it indoors to safety.
Walking inside, staying on the beige, we were shown the main floor only; the Prince and Duchess live upstairs and as much as I might have begged or bribed, I was not allowed up there.
We walked into the library where the Queen Mother kept her collection of books, all first editions, most signed by their authors.
The collection includes Beatrix Potter, P.G Wodehouse (Queen Mum and I have something in common!) and Dick Francis, who wasn’t just a famous author but also her former jockey. I think I drooled a bit when I saw her collection.
There were paintings everywhere. The house is lousy with paintings, photos and objets d’arts, and we asked about most of them.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, or else just terribly gifted about making things up on the spot—she gave us a ton of information, especially about a painting of the current Queen, which currently hangs in the dining room.
Painted by Augustus John in 1940, it really doesn’t look a lot like her. She has a quizzical look on her face and as a portrait, I don’t think it works. Our guide explained that poor Mr John was so nervous about the sitting that the helpful Princess offered booze, music, and anecdotes to calm her portrait artist.
None of it worked and he painted something that, despite her reassurances, he disliked. Refusing to complete the picture, he kept it in his studio, where it stayed until 20 years later, when it re-emerged. It now hangs proudly in Clarence House.
Even though incomplete, and not John’s best work, it had pride of place over the dining table. Prince Charles has his chair positioned at the table so every time he looks up, he sees his mother looking back at him across the room. How sweet.
If you look closely, you can see that her earrings are of different size, her arms aren’t in the right position, there are no stems on the roses she holds, and there’s no arm on the chair she sits upon. I like to think her quirky eyebrows were showing genuine emotion, as in “what on earth is the matter with you? Just paint me and let’s get the hell out of here!”
We walked into the Morning Room (in my house, it’s called the kitchen), and I was struck by a painting over the fireplace. In it, a woman sits on a sofa, wearing the most frou-frouish pink meringue of a gown. Beside her, looking like a long green Harlequin, sits Margaret Thatcher.
At least, that’s who it looks like. I asked the guide, and it seems unlikely it was Mags, being as it was painted in 1941.
This is where I solidified my friend-making skills, as I totally, as they say in stand-up parlance, killed the room with my observation. Not even the guide had realized the similarity between Baroness Thatcher and the pink lady’s suitor. Much laughter all around, and I was on my way to friends, admirers galore and the knowledge that next week, when the guide talks to her next group of visitors, she’ll mention my brilliance to them.
God, I’m good.
My one regret about the visit is that I wasn’t allowed to take photos. We each received a guide book with tons of pictures and information about the House, but I’m afraid I’m not even allowed to use the photos inside, to show you just how beautiful it all is.
There’s only one solution to this: you’ll have to go see it all for yourself.