Friday, June 13, 2008

The Pretender

Had to have more photographs taken. This makes me feel as if I was a small girl again when my mother used to stand me in the corner of our living room for photographs. "This is me behind the sofa". "This is me in front of the sofa." "This is me on the sofa" sort of thing. This went on for years - you have to be an only child to fully appreciate how tense a camera can make me.

As an adult though, I have been allowed out from the corner of the living room. Now it is a case of: "This is me in front of Bamburgh Castle." "This is me on the beach" sort of thing. We went to Alnwick Garden. I wore a red and pink flowed silk dress, empire line, three-quarter sleeves and lipstick. I marvelled at the spurting fountains and leant closer to admire them - across from me, the photographer snapped away. When she had got what she wanted, I tripped up the stone steps to the ornamental garden at the top watched by a band of happy pensioners. I smiled in that way you do when you have been making a spectacle of yourself but had been hoping no one had noticed. The girl I was with informed me one of them had come up to her to say: "That's the Duchess of Northumberland isn't it?" She told him I was no such thing. Why did she do that? What harm would it have done? Those pensioners would have had a much better day out if they thought they had seen the Duchess of Northumberland in the flesh.

I actually met the real thing last month. I was invited along as part of a tour for eight people, which was a prize bought by a friend at an auction at a Conservative ball. The staff at the garden are very efficient. When I arrived, they started talking to each other on walkie talkies because they were expecting us. I felt like telling every gardener and guide we met, “Look, I’m not really a Tory you know.” I felt like telling the Duchess that too, because she immediately informed us that the creation of the garden was only possible under a Labour government and could never have been backed by a Conservative government because it would have looked bad.The genuine Conservatives I was with, smiled politely and tried to look non-committal. I had wondered if she would be “frightfully, frightfully” and expect us to curtsey regularly. I just about managed to stop myself calling her “Your Majesty” when she introduced herself. I also had to tamp down those feelings of acute resentment I harbour towards any woman married to a man whose personal fortune is estimated at £300m according to The Sunday Times Rich List. Where do you meet a man with a personal fortune of £300m I want to know. And why didn’t I meet one before my husband-to-be ambled along dragging behind him several mortgages and a walloping great overdraft? She told us that at one point, the Duke had not visited the garden for two years. I wondered whether he plugged his fingers into his ears and sang “La-la-la-la…I can’t hear you…la-la!” when she strikes up about her latest whiz-bang wheeze of an ice-skating rink or an adventure playground. He doesn’t - she said they don’t talk about it. He may be curdled with debt, but at least my husband encourages me to talk about my work – mind you, the conversations don’t end with "…so is it alright if I spend another £10million then?” Anyway, I am thinking of offering myself as a body-double. I will waft round dressed in something floral and pose for pictures with trippers, and she can concentrate on bringing in the extra £28m she needs for the next stage of the garden.

12 comments:

girl with the mask said...

I think one of my new 'Top Ten Aspirations for Life' is going to be 'Be mistaken for a duchess'.

It is a sheltered life. But one with ten aspirations.

Rob Clack said...

How very unkind to tell them you weren't the Duchess. You should choose your friends more carefully.

Fresh Air said...

Don't worry Wifey, I'm sure the Duchess would have realised that you were True Labour if she sensed the acute resentment you have to anyone who has considerably more money than you have. Of course there are millions of other similarly chippy Labourites who will be resenting the £70k advance you got for your book!

Retiredandcrazy said...

You wouldn't really want to be a Duchess would you? You are much more important!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Once your book starts to sell, perhaps you could offer to lend the money for the garden yourself.

CJ xx

cheshire wife said...

If the Duke really has £300 million why does his wife need government money - regardless of the colour of their politics - to renovate her garden?

I Beatrice said...

I met her once too. Not at her other place, Syon House in Isleworth, which is not far from where I live, but in the gardens of Ham House, our local stately home. I had gone to tea there with my husband and left him sitting at the table while I went to browse in the shop. When I returned ten minutes later, a tall young woman was sharing the table with him, who stood up and, putting her hand out to me, said “Hello. I’m Jane Northumberland.”

Now I knew at once who Jane Northumberland was because – well, because I read my “Hello” magazine and all that sort of thing; and besides, I had seen her programme about the Alnwick garden hosted by (name escapes me at present – red-haired TV gardener with a penchant for water features?). My husband however –staunch democrat and non-reader-of-“Hello” that he is - had had no idea who she was when she asked if she could share his table. Though admitted later that his curiosity had been raised when she told him in conversation that at “their place” it required about 80 gardeners to keep things going...

She was down there that day as one of the judges of a garden competition run by Channel 4 – and it didn’t seem to me they were looking after her very well, if she had to find her own tea-table in the crowded public garden. Still, it worked to our advantage, as we had quite a pleasant conversation about her experiences with the Alnwick garden before the Tv crew required her presence again...

I was a bit surprised at my own reaction to her presence, which is the real point of this story. How one ought to respond when meeting a duchess didn’t even cross my mind. She was so very ordinary and nice, for one thing – and for the other, well it seems as if every democratic principle in my body would have risen up in protest at the idea of “Your Gracing”, or in any other way genuflecting to this very pleasant young woman who just happened to be married to one of the richest men in the country.

I daresay if she had been the queen, my democratic principles would have been put to a more severe test. Even the most hardened republicans turn to jelly, I’m told, when they find themselves in presence of the queen...

Minx said...

I think I could possibly be mistaken for the assistant to the assistant of the understairs maid. And don't try floral wafting, it really doesn't work.

Swearing Mother said...

£28 million? Blimey, and I winced at the thought of spending £22.50 on a new garden fork. What the heck is she planting? Whatever it is, there must be loads of it.

It's all relative I suppose.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

oh the photos! I was dying on your behalf.

I once pretended to be a Lady when I ordered online from John Lewis (you can just choose a title from a drop down menu). The gift was for a friend's wedding, and she kept me and my husband as Lord and Lady on the seating plan. We had preferential treatment from the wedding venue, and one man on our table didn't believe my John Lewis story; he was very hostile during the meal. (anti-royalist).

So just start to call yourself Duchess, everyone will believe you and it'll keep the pensioners happy.
Pigx

DogLover said...

I think our sheltered Girl with the Mask should aspire a little higher. What about becoming another Wife in the North, for instance?

Vanessa said...

How can anyone 'need' £28 million for a garden? I've been to Alnwick and thought it was a bit like an upmarket municipal park to be quite honest - certainly not worth the fuss that is made about it. And why on earth are the government chipping in to fund her Gertrude Jekyll fantasies?