On 8 September the King issued a brief message: ‘In marking the first anniversary of Her late Majesty’s death and my accession, we recall with great affection her long life, devoted service and all she meant to so many of us.
‘I am deeply grateful for the love and support that has been shown to my wife and myself during this year as we do our utmost to be of service to you all.’
In keeping with his wish for things to remain simple, only the King and Queen, accompanied by the Earl of Snowdon and his daughter Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones, and Lady Sarah Chatto, her husband Daniel and their sons Arthur and Samuel, attended a short prayer service at Crathie Kirk on the morning of the anniversary. Afterwards, Their Majesties chatted to Balmoral Estate workers and members of the local community outside the church.
The Prince and Princess of Wales meanwhile travelled to West Wales for an ‘Act of Reflection on Accession Day’ in the 800-year-old St Davids Cathedral. It is the only cathedral in the UK where the sovereign has a special stall in the quire among the members of the chapter. Queen Elizabeth II sat there on four occasions during her visits to St Davids over the years. Catherine laid flowers at an official portrait of the late monarch. That morning the Duke of Sussex visited his grandparents’ tomb in St George’s Chapel.
Mohamed Al-Fayed, the former owner of Harrods, died at the end of August, aged 94. A fanfare of media reports followed, recalling the deaths of Diana and his son Dodi and details of his own controversial life. Mohamed was always extremely considerate to us at Majesty and in 1987 invited us on a private tour of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s home on the Bois de Boulogne, which he had leased from the City of Paris and renamed Villa Windsor.
When Majesty visited it was exactly as it had been after the Duchess of Windsor’s death the previous year. The silk curtains in the drawing room on the ground floor showed stains from their dogs relieving themselves on the hems; the table on which King Edward VIII signed the abdication document remained in the hallway; and the duke’s royal standard hung from the inside staircase balustrade.
Sydney the butler, who had been re-employed by Al-Fayed, showed us with great pride the Duke of Windsor’s clothes, beautifully colour co-ordinated in glass-fronted wardrobes, and dozens of pairs of shoes racked in rows and also colour coded. In the duke’s bathroom was a small bath covered with a wooden slat; in the bath we found hundreds of uncatalogued photographs.
The duchess’s jewellery collection, which we didn’t see, was in a safe in the cellar next to the coal bunker and her clothes were hung in no particular order in dressing room cupboards. It was the first of several visits and we felt very lucky to have been among the few to see the house in its unrestored state.
On 15 October Sarah, Duchess of York will celebrate her 64th birthday. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram earlier this year and has bravely spoken about her experiences in her podcast to encourage women to have regular check-ups.