the view from the top of the pyramid of power
Joined: 26 Jul 2006
Location: St. Pauls, Bristol, UK
|Posted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 12:22 am Post subject: Diana images banned at Prince Charles' country house
|Welcome to one's Highgrove garden
By Frank Barrett, The Mail On Sunday
Last updated at 09:13 29 October 2008
Do you remember when the Prince of Wales fought the Prince of Darkness and won?
It happened six years ago when he somehow got involved in the campaign to stop a Dracula Land theme park being built in the wilds of Romania.
Poor old Romania is famous for just two things the excesses of communist dictator Ceausescu and the even bloodier excesses of Count Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler).
Given the worldwide celebrity of Dracula, it made good commercial sense to use his legend as a means of developing the country's tourist business.
Plans included an imitation Gothic castle with torture rooms and an 'Eccentric Vampire Fashion House'. Prince Charles resisted it all, not on the grounds of taste but because the new theme park threatened some ancient oaks.
Romania, which had just emerged into the sunlit uplands of democracy, prudently decided against the allure of a quick tourist buck and finally sided with Prince Charles.
Dracula Land was impaled on a planning technicality. But a number of bitter Romanians in the tourist business weren't best pleased with our heir to the throne's interference.
'He has his Prince Charlie Land theme park in your Cotswolds,' a tourist board executive complained to me at the time.
'Why would he want to stop ours?'
Assuming he was referring to the highly esteemed gardens at the Prince's Highgrove home near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, I replied: 'They're not a theme park and not open to the public.'
This is what I believed at the time. I was wrong.
The gardens are open to the public I've just visited them and, as for the accusation that Highgrove is a theme park, well, you would be surprised. I was.
Anybody can apply to visit Highgrove. Prearranged groups of up to 25 people can be accommodated between April and October. The visits are largely restricted to garden associations and other groups but not exclusively.
Last month I was contacted by Whatley Manor Hotel near Malmesbury, a couple of miles from Highgrove, to say that an American group due to stay there with a prearranged tour of Highgrove had cancelled.
Whatley Manor had been given permission to offer the places at £99 each (including morning coffee before the garden tour and afterwards a three-course lunch at the hotel's restaurant). So off I went.
'Welcome to the gardens at Highgrove,' says Prince Charles. Not in person, obviously during August and September he lives with Camilla in Scotland. His personal greeting is in the glossy guidebook: The Gardens At Highgrove, price £5. An accompanying picture shows him on his hunkers in the vegetable patch clutching a recently excavated new potato.
You buy the guide from the shop at the end of your tour. A visit to a park that ends up in a shop what does this remind you of? It put me in mind of a trip to Disney World.
I must say, and I mean this in a nice way, there really was more than a little of the Orlando theme park to Highgrove, more than you might imagine.
It was at this point I remembered the Romanian's complaint about 'Prince Charlie World'. There might as well be a mock Georgian sign at the entrance announcing as much. In fact, what you get is a sort of Arts-and-Crafts style police box from which a Midsomer Murders-type bobby emerges to check your passport.
Passport? Yes, the security at Highgrove is intense. Names of visitors have to be submitted for checking in advance.
Mobile phones are allowed on the estate but must be turned off and left on the transport, we were warned.
Smoking, cameras, binoculars and any form of recording equipment are banned. And don't be fooled at the apparently laid-back country-copper feel.
When one of our party produced a forbidden mobile phone, it was spotted on security cameras in less than a minute and a WPC was rapidly on the spot to tick him off.
Given that the estate is owned by the heir to the throne, it is not surprising that the security is tight. What is surprising is that the public are admitted at all. (No tours, however, can take place when Charles and Camilla are at home.)
Just as Walt Disney had a point to his theme parks (good, clean family fun enhances the soul), the Prince of Wales is keen to use Prince Charlie World to promote his organic message.
There are two large signs at the car park entrance 'BEWARE: You are now entering an oldfashioned establishment' and 'This is a GMO-free zone', a reference to genetically-modified organisms.
Charles has created Highgrove as a showplace for organic management visitors are encouraged to discover why we should not mess with Mother Nature.
'Highgrove is living proof that organic methods can work to the benefit of both man and nature,' says the guidebook.
We are ushered into an elegant new tour group reception area (another sign that Highgrove tourism is big business a fresh group was being welcomed every 30 minutes). The room is decorated with several watercolours by Prince Charles copies on sale in the shop, says a notice.
We are welcomed by a volunteer tour guide, who resembles Alastair Sim playing Millicent Fritton, the headmistress in the old St Trinian's films.
She faithfully expounds the organic line even if her tone is occasionally a little quizzical.
She was, for example, mystified at the resilience of the princely hostas to the usual ravishing by their traditional enemy, the slug.
'This is an unusual tour,' she kept announcing. So it was and surprisingly entertaining. The Prince famously has a Goonish sense of humour and, true to form, there is a light touch at work in the garden's design (the oak chicken house is an architectural gem).
Charles was in his early 30s and still a bachelor when he acquired Highgrove.
Archive pictures show a dull place set in a fairly drab park. Charles was attracted, it seems, by the estate's striking cedar tree.
This tree has since sadly died but Charles has wrought miracles with the rest of the garden.
It's a work of art and the artist is clearly the Prince himself, for whom designing the garden probably ranks as one of his greatest achievements.
The walk around Highgrove takes about an hour and three-quarters and we learn, among other things, that clippings from the yew hedge are used in cancer-fighting therapies, a large part of the stumpery a place created out of the stumps of fallen trees arrived without warning from Cowdray Park on a flatbed lorry, William and Harry's thatched tree house, once sited in a holly tree, is punningly called Hollyroodhouse (after the Royal residence in Edinburgh) and the Temple of Worthies honours the Queen Mother with a bronze relief showing her in her favourite gardening hat and pearls.
Near the entrance to the Walled Garden, a bust of Charles gazes forlornly out of the undergrowth.
'He gets rather a lot of gifts from people a lot of busts of him in particular and they all need to be found a home,' explains Miss Fritton.
Nearby are sculptures of Lord Mountbatten and Charles's much missed Jack Russell terrier Tigga.
In the Sundial Garden, Highgrove becomes Disney World meets Albanian dictatorship. Secreted in niches all around the garden are more busts of Prince Charles, gazing out like a latter-day Enver Hoxha.
'More presents, I'm afraid,' says the headmistress.
We were all still a bit nonplussed by the sight of so many Prince Charles busts.
We paused to gaze on one that had been soiled by a disrespectful bird. The jolly man next to me said: 'I think the bird said it all.'
I laughed nervously: I feared another visit from the WPC.
'No busts of Lady Di, you notice,' said one woman in our party.
'The dog that didn't bark in the night,' said her jolly husband with a wink. 'The elephant in the Highgrove room.'
The penultimate stop was in the Cottage Garden where we studied the catalpa tree, a present to the Prince from Sir Elton John (Prince Charles must dread the approach of the postman's van or another truck bearing yet another bust or fresh greenery for the garden).
Finally we arrived in the tea room for welcome refreshments (the Duchy biscuits are really very good) before being guided towards the shop.
If you can imagine a retail spectrum with Lidl at one end, the Highgrove shop sits at the opposite extreme.
Where Lidl has tins of Uzbeki pickled cucumbers for 25p, Highgrove has its own-brand champagne for £34.95 a bottle.
The credit crunch seems to be taking its toll, though.
A box of Highgrove House chocolates is reduced from £12.95 to £9.95, and a DVD of the wedding of Charles and Camilla is now available for £2.95 (down from £4.95).
But the big difference between Disney World and Highgrove is that while the Disney profits are trousered by shareholders, the money from Highgrove goes to the Prince's charities for which he helps to raise £120 million every year.
Looking at the highly organised tourist set-up at Highgrove, my guess is that, eventually, the gardens will routinely open to the general public.
It will never be another Chatsworth or Longleat, but as Prince Charles himself will tell you: 'Small is beautiful.'
Dracula, of course, is still livid.
For information about visiting Highgrove write to The Garden Tours Administrator, Highgrove House, Doughton, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8TN (www.princeofwales.gov.uk).
Whatley Manor (www.whatleymanor.com, 01666 834026) has special-event room rates from £185 per night. Contact the hotel for information about what's on soon
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-616096/Welcome-ones-Highgrove-garden.html#ixzz0M7u1LmIt
Secret Rulers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsyyBgdIZ4g
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