Waiting outside the mighty iron gates as London’s dusk turned to night, I looked for the Queen’s Guard while clutching my private shopping card. “By kind permission of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall,” read the words under the royal plumes, “you are invited to a Christmas Shop at Clarence House.”
The Mall looked so foggy and Dickensian that it felt like time-travelling. But once inside the Regency architecture of John Nash, it was cosy, and I could imagine the days when the late Queen Mother and her corgis welcomed her grandson Prince Charles. The heir to the British throne now refers to the mansion as his London residence, while Highgrove in Gloucestershire is his organic and environmentally-friendly estate.
Time to shop! Champagne glass in hand, I started my tour of the suite of rooms filled with the Royal Family’s art — including a picture of a girlish Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon holding a straw hat before she married the second son who later became King George VI. I noted that a similar hat to the one she was wearing in the Savely Sorine painting was on sale, decorated with Prince of Wales tweed (for £59.95).
And there was a corgi! Not the one called Susan (no relation!) that belonged to the Queen Mum and made headlines by biting a policeman, but a dear little decoration for your festive tree (£9.95).
My mind swayed back to Queen Victoria and the paintings she did of her Scottish idyll in the Highlands. For there on display, reproduced from the paintbrush of Charles himself, were watercolour lithographs, numbered and signed with a certificate of authenticity. I was poised between one of Lochnagar or an unpronounceable lodge at the Royal Family home in Balmoral (£2,500 a picture).
What about food, a subject on which Charles has spoken openly, particularly about the need for quality and sustainability? The waiters were offering miniature mince pies (£8.95 a box) and I picked out a jar of Highgrove Honey (£9.95). Biscuits in fancy boxes looked like a surefire hit as a gift for granny.
On the kitsch side were his’n’hers velvet cushions with a regal element: a decorative embroidered crown and a “King” or “Queen”. If you love your dogs or cats, that might be a welcome gift for them (£69.95), although a bone-shaped tartan toy would probably win more doggy approval.
All the profits from the sale of the Highgrove collection, developed by artisan producers, are donated to the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation, established in 1979 to help young people, the arts, and the environment.
But, according to a signed, framed letter from Charles that was set on a table, there is another beneficiary.
“This year’s main collection is inspired by Tara, the topiary elephant that is in my garden in Highgrove,” the Prince wrote. “All profits from the splendid limited-edition Christmas decorations will be donated to Elephant Family, of which my wife and I are joint presidents.”
The Prince did not say that the charity had been founded by the late Mark Shand, Camilla’s brother, whose life’s work had been saving elephants.
The big beasts brought a sense of vibrant colour, as though every elephant was dressed up for an Indian wedding. In vivid orange, shocking pink and with embroidered rugs on their backs, the bone-china Tara Elephant (£21.95), Tara egg-cups (£12.95) and napkins (£3.25) were matched by a Paisley cosmetic bag (£12.95) and a Mughal-style gold and silver pendant (£79.95).
As I stood in line to pay, with my hessian carrier bag in vivid red, Highgrove Christmas lettering, my eye was caught by a painting above the till: royal dogs, of course, painted in the Highlands for Queen Victoria by Edwin Landseer in 1858. Shame it wasn’t on offer in the Highgrove Christmas shopping event. I’ll be waiting for Prince Charles’s own hand-drawn version next year.