In the stables at Sandringham, I admired Philip’s invention: the mobile picnic trailer

"The stable block has an exhibition of things people send to the Queen: an ostrich egg; a wooden goat; a gruesome portrait of her face made from beads."

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I met Prince Philip at a charity event at St James’s Palace. He paused, stuck out his face and asked me what I did. “Gossip columnist, Your Royal Highness!” I screamed, for I was high on cocaine but we understood each other; we both knew I didn’t actually do anything.

He moved off – and that is my Prince Philip anecdote. Now he is retiring from meeting gossip columnists and will spend more time at Windsor Castle. I thought the announcement meant that he had separated from the Queen, because she will remain at Buckingham Palace on weekdays, but then I remembered: posh people are different and Phil, with four royal grandparents, is very posh. The Queen had only two.

I have been to all the Queen’s houses. Windsor is a medieval fantasy, so scrubbed it doesn’t look real. It’s more like a toy than a building; in St George’s Chapel, a guide pointed me towards her future tomb.

Balmoral Castle looks like it was built of breeze blocks by an angry wizard and furnished by a consortium promoting sales of orange tartan. There’s a plastic stag in the garden. The Queen was apparently loitering in the grounds when I toured Balmoral, staring at tourists through binoculars, as if we were zebras. Buckingham Palace is an office block with hideous frontage and wonderful Canalettos. It is also a fire hazard with dreadful curtains.

Sandringham House is most interesting of all: you’re allowed to see the private rooms downstairs. It is, like the monarchy itself, smaller than it looks: a comfortable country house, heaving with money, or “stealth wealth” and, surrounded by walls, so quiet you can only hear your footsteps, and the ducks.

You could, if you were curious (and I was) find the Queen’s wifi connection in the study, and this is the most human I have found Elizabeth. There are only books and guns – very few books, and so many guns. The books include The Guinness Book of Records, A Sloth in the Family, and something called Gnomes. There are also statues of ducks, as if the Windsors are sorry they’ve shot so many ducks and want to bring them back – and a cushion that says Elizabeth R.

The stable block has an exhibition of things people send to the Queen: an ostrich egg; a wooden goat; a gruesome portrait of her face made from beads, which give her the appearance of suffering from elephantiasis while wearing bright red lipstick.

There is also a series of vehicles, including evidence of Phil’s “modernising” tendencies, which made him seem so dangerous to royal courtiers in the 1950s, though they seem quite innocent, here – there’s a mobile picnic trailer, which he invented so he could transport cheese sandwiches around the estate. It’s a kind of legacy, I suppose, but I wonder if we all deserved better.

The gift shop is equally haunting. You can buy a puzzle of the Queen, and play with her face.

This article appears in the 11 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why the Tories keep winning

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