What the footman saw . . . a family of oddballs
A full-scale review of security at Buckingham Palace is under way after a journalist got a job as a footman ahead of US President George Bush's historic state visit. IAN BURRELL reports.
NONE of the lampooning and satirical portrayals of Britain's royal family quite managed to paint the picture that emerged yesterday of the bizarre rituals and oddball practices that go on every day inside Buckingham Palace.
The corgis underneath the royal breakfast table gorging on slices of toast, spread with "light" marmalade and fed to them by Queen Elizabeth herself; Prince Philip sat opposite, with his transistor radio arranged at precisely the right angle alongside his Tupperware box of dried porridge oats and a pile of newspapers with the Racing Post on the top; Prince Andrew japing around his room with a toy replica of Monkey, the symbol of the ITV Digital collapse; And even Princess Anne - the hard-working one - demanding a "very black banana" and a ripe Kiwi in her fruit bowl and allegedly berating a clumsy member of the household as an "incompetent twat".
Spitting Image did its best in the eighties, with its grotesque rubber effigies of an irascible Prince Philip and a gin-swilling Queen Mother, cruelly caricaturing the home life of the royal family.
The writer Sue Townsend tried to transport the Windsors to a council house in Leicester, Private Eye re-named the Queen as Brenda and more recently the BBC2 series Double Take used lookalikes to heap on more ridicule.
But none of the parodies had direct access to the material uncovered by Ryan Parry, the Daily Mirror reporter who spent eight weeks inside Buckingham Palace masquerading as a footman.
What Parry uncovered was not just an alarming failing in palace security but an insight into the minutiae of the workings of the royal household.
He found that the Queen's footmen are issued with a detailed plan of her breakfast table, setting out the exact positions of every utensil, condiment and cereal. Similar guides are in existence for the tea trays of every senior royal.
Prince Philip insists on what he calls a "calling tray" at 7.30am, with the pot of tea and china cup and saucer arranged just so. A later tea tray must include oat cakes and honey.
Buckingham Palace has a big thing about trays, it appears, especially one which is loaded with whiskey, soda, clarets and beer for royal drinks parties. It is grandly referred to as "The Prime Minister's Tray".
According to Parry's inside account, staff can stand around for hours on end for the opportunity to carry a tray for a few feet along a corridor and pass it to a colleague.
On one weekend during the reporter's brief period of royal employment, he was one of ten members of staff waiting on the Queen as she enjoyed a cup of coffee.
His colleagues were a footman, two kitchen porters, two chefs, two silver pantry under-butlers, a page and a coffee-room maid.
"The maid waited two-and-a-half hours to pick up a pot of coffee from a hot plate and pour it into a silver jug," Parry wrote.
"She then handed it to me. My role was to take the tray 20 metres to the page's vestibule and hand it to the page, who then carried it another eight metres to the Queen in her dining room."
The picture that emerges is a mixed one. It recalls on the one hand the extravagances and ceremony of royal courts from centuries past, at odds with Buckingham Palace's repeated assurances to the public that budgets are tight and money is spent frugally.
But there are also elements of television's The Royle Family, particularly in Prince Andrew's suite where the prince watches television on a wide-screen set and has a cushion on his sofa with the slogan "Eat, Drink and Remarry".
Although the Mirror referred to Prince Andrew's "plush sitting room", the picture it published showed a green sofa and tartan cushions surrounded by a clutter of family photographs (many including Fergie) that would not have displeased Barb Royle, played in the TV series by Sue Johnston.
Last night John Lloyd, the creator of Spitting Image, said that the puppet series had been 19 years ahead of its time in presenting the Windsors as a normal family.
"We had an ex-Buck House footman way back in the first series in 1984, and we had all sorts of tips," said Lloyd, now making the BBC quiz show QI.
Prince Andrew, we are told in the Mirror account, has a "running joke" with household staff in which he leaves Monkey (the puppet sidekick of comedian Johnny Vegas) in unusual locations around the palace, including in the jaws of a stuffed leopard.
Above the toilet in the Wessexes' quarters hangs a cartoon of the Queen telling a group of penguins of her displeasure with the media.
That annoyance will have increased after the Mirror revelations, which may well have caused spluttering over yesterday's toast and "light marmalade".
For although the public may have warmed to the image of the Corgis "sprawled out in the corridor asleep" in the Queen's apartments, there were other details in the account that will have damaged the monarchy once again.
Princess Anne, who is often portrayed as a tireless charity worker, appears in the Mirror as preferring to be portrayed herself.
She reportedly installed a raised platform in her sitting room and donned a navy blue uniform "filled with gold detail, a decorative aiguilette across one shoulder and a line of medals across the left breast" for a sitting.
Parry reported that Princess Anne flies to London by helicopter from her estate in Gloucestershire before taking a chauffeured-Bentley from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace.
She is then described pushing aside a post-lunch cup of coffee in disgust at its smell, before heading off to the City of London to attend a conference about "crime".
But perhaps the most damaging revelation for the royal family's public image is the way it treats the servants.
Footmen live in spartan rooms and share communal toilets and washrooms. They start their day at 7.30am and are told to avoid walking on the middle of the carpets and to stick to "the slow lane" next to the wall.
Parry was required to steam the clothes of the Queen's equerry, Major James Duckworth-Chad, as well as buff his sword and medals and polish his shoes to a "glass finish".
The footman's salary was a paltry £11,881 (?17,000), reduced to £9,338 (?11,100) after living costs. The household has a high turnover of staff. After the hasty departure of the Mirror journalist it is difficult to see who might want to fill the vacancy - other than another undercover reporter, or worse. (© Independent News Service)