Fit for a King – the final in a 3 part saga in which Diana Noonan attempts to fulfil her life-long dream of visiting Prince Charles's Highgrove Gardens.
When a matter of security raises its head, Britain is not America. And, where trouble at Highgrove is concerned, that's just as well. My husband and I were strolling dreamily around what is quite possibly the most intimate of Highgrove's garden "rooms" when the first inkling that something was amiss began to surface. As we gazed in wonder at the neatly trimmed buxus hedges with their many alcoves displaying busts of the prince himself, our tour guide, dressed as you might expect, in long Driza-Bone riding coat and buckled green wellies, glanced over her shoulder as if she had heard something unexpected. The next moment, a member of staff (it was the gentleman who had shown us to the staffroom locker where we had left our day packs, including our Gaz burner and billy) approached and whispered something in our guide's ear. She appeared to flinch, just a little, and her next snippet of information – the fact that the garden we were in was preyed upon by paparazzi in the 1980's (the only reference to Princess Diana that were to hear) was said just a little too hastily. She then gathered us together and said that it was time to leave the gardens and head back to the tearooms for a refreshing cup of tea. Unfortunately, this was not something my husband and I could expect to look forward to – at least not yet.
"Would you come this way, please?" the gentleman who had just arrived whispered to us. He led us out an alternative route and back towards the staffroom. "I'm afraid there is some concern regarding the possessions you left in the staffroom locker." Although his manners were impeccable, my heart began to race as we were ushered into the staffroom to find our daypacks lying on the carpet, encircled by a ring of security staff. If this had been America, and not Britain, I am quite certain we would have been in handcuffs and the gardens themselves in a state of lockdown. As it was, if any of the staff were carry weapons, we couldn't see them. However, the smell of gas coming from our daypack was, I'm afraid to say, unmistakable. "Would you care to unpack your belongings?" we were asked. My husband, moving very slowly so as not to cause further alarm, bent down, carefully unzipped the bag, and pulled from it the offending item – a leaking Gaz cylinder nestled in a black-bottomed Kiwi billy. A collective sigh of relief spread through the room. "Tea?" asked our minder, in a tone that was, in the circumstances, so English as to be almost comical. "Yes, please," I muttered as, with apologies, we slunk off to the tearooms.
Over a much needed cuppa, I took stock of the distress my longed-for visit to HRH's gardens had caused our hosts, and wondered how I would ever be able to hold my head up as I walked down the drive and away from Highgrove. So it came as a complete surprise when, just as were about to leave, we were waylaid by the gardens' manager who had, she said, a very unusual request. Would I, she begged, write to the prince, outlining the details of our visit: from the unusual method of reaching the gardens, to the 'difficulty' with the leaking gas from our picnic bag. His Royal Highness, she assured us, would be most 'amused' to read of our experiences.
This was all a couple of years ago and, until now, I have never had the courage to tell anyone, let alone Prince Charles, about my Highgrove pilgrimage. Now that it has been 'aired', so to speak, perhaps I might just email HRH a copy of my adventures – after all, Highgrove's manager obviously thinks it's a story fit for a king!