Charles, Prince of Wales, opens the royal palaces – and his own country home – to offer a range of organic food, items for the home and garden, and gifts for dogs, cats… and elephants
The corgi dog is famous for being favoured by the Queen as well as her mother, so much so that Highgrove has commemorated its significance in this decoration, which would look pretty on a Christmas tree. The corgi (£9.95) is made using the traditional "Zardozi" method – a 16th-century embroidery technique that originates from the Surat district of Gujurat in India
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.”
Suzy's invitation to Prince Charles' Highgrove Collection shopping event 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.
Clarence House, the current London residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, was previously the Queen Mother's home. Here she celebrates her birthday with her pet corgi and her family (from left, the Queen, Prince Edward, Prince Charles and Princess Margaret). Corgis have long been a Royal Family favourite, and appear as a design motif in the Highgrove Christmas Collection.
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).
Her Majesty Queen Consort Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon ("the Queen Mum") by Savely Sorine (1878-1953) hangs on the wall of Clarence House. Inset, a similar hat with a band in Prince of Wales Check tweed can be bought from the Highrove Collection
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).
Christmas decorations, including this corgi (the Queen's favourite breed of dog), bee and marching trumpeter, feature in the Highgrove Christmas Collection (from £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).
View of Lochnagar, from a limited-edition of 100 lithographs created from one of HRH The Prince of Wales's watercolours of Scotland (£2,500)
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.
Honey from the Highrove gardens (£9.95)
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.
Highgrove Collection his'n'hers Royal cushions
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.
A tartan toy dog bone (£14.95)
But, according to a signed, framed letter from Charles that was set on a table, there is another beneficiary.
The limited-edition George teddy bear (£99.95)
“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 Tara Collection is a new addition to the Highgrove Christmas Collection this year, including this jewelled elephant Christmas tree decoration inspired by a topiary elephant that sits in Highgrove’s back garden, given to HRH The Prince of Wales to commemorate the Duchess of Cornwall’s late brother, Mark Shand (£19.95)
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.
A bone china Tara Elephant tankard (£21.95) and cufflinks (£34.95)
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).
The conservationist Mark Shand, the late younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with his beloved elephant, Tara. Throughout his life, Shand campaigned to protect Asian elephants in their natural habitat. Proceeds from the 2016 limited-edition Highgrove Christmas Decoration Collection are being donated to Elephant Family, the charity Shand co-founded in 2002.
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.
The Highgrove Christmas shop can be visited by appointment from 23rd November or on-line at www.highgrovegardens.com
The British Royal Family has long been known for its affection for dogs, and Queen Victoria commissioned portraits of hers, which hang in Clarence House. Here, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, play with two Jack Russells at the 2015 Flower Show at Sandringham, the Queen's country retreat near King's Lynn.