MY FAVOURITE THING: Well, I take it everywhere. It’s my favourite thing, and if you were married to the Prince of Wales, you’d understand why.
“We’re orf to New Zealand,” Charles announced one morning. I went blank. “We were there four years ago,” he said.
“Which anthem is it?” I asked. “Not the terribly boring one that they always sing twice?” He said he was afraid so.
“Christ on a bike,” I said, and tossed my Union Jack stress ball in the suitcase. It’s a dimpled, hand-held rubber toy. When you squeeze it, you feel calm. Still, I was awfully grumpy. All these tours, frocks, and blow-waves! Twenty grinding years of public relations, only to go to New Zealand to be rained on sideways and sung at, twice?
“Cheer up,” he said. “Being miserable isn’t your job. That’s the Duchess of Sussex.”
Dear young Meghan. I remember the day she came into our lives. We were at Balmoral, dressing for some hideous Highland Ball or other.
“Bloody hell, he’s only gorn and proposed,” I said, lowering The Times.
“Idiot boy,” observed Charles. His valet, Bates – the shifty-looking one, with the limp – was combing his sporran at the time, so Charles was standing very still.
“She’s just not our sort,” I went on. “She’s California Quail. Pen-raised. Wouldn’t last a minute at an English country shoot.”
“All bones and sinew. Only good for the pot,” Charles said. “Not like you, Grouse.” That’s our little joke, our game bird identities. He says Grouse is perfect because, like them, I’m a heavy-bodied ground species, excellent in gravy. They’re also dirty-blonde, like me; and they prefer full bush.
Charles nicknamed himself, saying: “I suppose I’m your Woodcock.” This flatters him, rather.
Things went from bad to worse for the Sussexes, of course. We watched their dreadful documentary last month, just after Charles had inspected a tweed factory, in Tweed. He was in an expansive mood because textiles coke him right up. As do organic carrots.
But he came crashing down when Meghan told an audience of millions that the British stiff upper lip was giving her internal damage.
“Nonsense,” I said, briskly. “The stiff lip is what got me through 1997, 1998 and 1999. That, and champagne truffles from Fortnum & Mason.”
“Internal damage?” mused Charles. “Might she have a bowel obstruction? That happened just before Harry’s wedding, if you remember, to our hatchet-faced wheaten terriers.”
“Thomas and Samantha?” I said. “They cost us a fortune in vet bills.”
“At the very least, she and Harry should be wormed,” said Charles. “But it’s terribly important to take the tablets at the same time.” I told Charles to leave it to me. I arranged for Meghan to visit the very next day.
“You need two things,” I told her when she arrived. “One of these,” I threw her a Stars and Stripes stress ball, “and a hobby. Personally, I find taxidermy deeply soothing.”
I snapped on my gloves to disembowel a field vole.
“I’m not living, I’m just existing,” she said, looking pale. “Some guy called Tom Bowers is writing an unauthorised biography about me.”
“Ugh! Tom Bowers,” I said, flicking a length of intestine into a bucket. “In his book about Charles, someone said I was the laziest Englishwoman ever to be born in the 20th century. What I wouldn’t do to shoot, stuff and mount him, that tree-climbing, nut-burying, squirrel-faced hack.” I waved my calipers. “To win the respect of the Commonwealth, you must do less. One single task a day, that’s all I set myself.”
“Like launching a charity fashion line?” she said.
“No,” I said. “Like getting out of bed.”
I suggested she take up the hunt. Horse is the answer to every question. Who can fail to feel better with all that rippling animal muscle between one’s thighs? The benefits are undeniable: even Diana cheered up when it was rumoured she was boffing Will Carling.
I’m a great one for hills and heather. Give me a moderately choked 16-gauge gun and a bulging cartridge bag and I’m the happiest woman in England. It’s these infernal tours that I can’t stand. Prince Philip agrees.
“New Zealand, is it?” he said at dinner last night, sitting in a bath chair on wheels. “Awful place. Mosquitoes. Sharks. No equestrian, and a lady Prime Minister. Still,” he flicked his whip, and his pony pulled him away from the table. “It’ll be nice when it’s finished.”
As imagined by Leah McFall.