Duchess 'dreading' first French speech as she goes on debut solo overseas trip
The Duchess of Cornwall admitted today that she was "dreading" making a speech in French as she embarked on her first solo overseas engagement in Paris.
She said her French was "slightly rusty" as she had not spoken it since she was 16, joking that while it was her first official visit abroad without her husband it may also be her last.
The Duchess is taking part in a two-day visit to the French capital in her capacity as patron of Emmaus UK, a charity that helps formerly homeless people rebuild their lives.
She will be speaking in French publicly for the first time in when she addresses members of an Emmaus community in Bougival, a Paris suburb, later this afternoon.
The Duchess is understood to have attended a Swiss finishing school before moving to Paris when she was 16 where she spent six months studying French and French Literature at the British Institute.
As she boarded the 10.25am Eurostar service at London’s St Pancras Station, she joked: "It’s my first solo and could be my last.
"I’m dreading making my speech in French, I haven’t had to speak it since I was 16."
The Duchess, dressed in a beige Anna Valentine jacket and patterned summer dress, travelled with a six-strong entourage including her hairdresser and dresser plus her security staff.
To the astonishment of fellow Bank Holiday travellers, she boarded a business class carriage with minimum fuss, taking a seat alongside representatives from Emmaus.
She quickly put them at ease, asking them about their command of French.
"I haven’t spoken French since I was 16 and I wouldn’t even say it was basic," she said.
"But they have somehow persuaded me to give a speech in French. It has taken years off me, I can tell you.
"I haven’t spoken it since I was 16 – that’s almost half a century ago. If it all goes wrong then I will need to clap loudly and disguise it. I will give you all signs to hold up too."
An aide said: "Although the Duchess is understandably somewhat nervous about undertaking a foreign visit without her husband, she is particularly excited that she is working out there on behalf of a charity she is so passionate about."
The Duchess will later attend a reception at the British Embassy attended by various Britons who have made their mark in France including Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, Rachel Khoo, the chef, Matt Feroze, a French champion cheese maker, World War II veterans and Prof Michael Edwards, the first British member of the French Academy.
Tomorrow, the Duchess will visit the Garde Republicaine in her capacity as patron of the British Equestrian Federation, where she will view an equestrian display and meet members of the Garde and their families.
She will also visit a French fruit and vegetable market, take a tour of the Louvre and visit the workshop of Dior, one of the leading French couture houses.
Peter Ricketts, the British Ambassador in France, said the trip, which was the Duchess's own idea, would incorporate "a wide range" of activities and ensure that she met a variety of people.
The visit is being privately funded by the Prince of Wales, who is this week visiting Germany and Armenia.