A birthday encounter
Together at last: Princess Margaret, who will be 65 on Monday, and the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, who came of pensionable age last Thursday. Miles Kington chanced upon them at the Palace
Saturday 19 August 1995
Ted In what sense?
Margaret In any sense.
Margaret Well, what do you do and how long have you been doing it?
Ted Do you always say that when you open a factory?
Margaret I don't know. It's so long since I opened a factory.
Ted Don't they trust you to anymore?
Margaret Oh, it's not that. It's the recession, you know. They aren't opening factories anymore. Just closing them down.
Ted I run a small poem factory in the country.
Margaret How fascinating. So you don't have a proper job?
Ted No. Do you?
Margaret I have been understudying the same part for nearly 50 years. So, what is it you do and how long have you been doing it?
Ted I am Poet Laureate. I am a jobbing versifier. On the Queen's birthday I write a poem for her.
Margaret How sickening. Do they pay you well?
Ted No. Very badly. I get 40 pieces of silver and a butt of Malmsey.
Margaret And what can you do with that?
Ted Give the Inland Revenue no end of trouble.
Margaret I see. Incidentally, you're meant to bow from time to time, you know. Only very slightly, but it's polite.
Ted And you're meant to know who I am. Only a bit, but it shows breeding.
Margaret I don't have to show breeding. I only have to have it. If I started showing breeding as well, people would get very confused. So, who are you and how long have you been him?
Ted I am Ted Hughes, ma'am. My job is to keep an eye on nature and warn mankind when danger looms.
Margaret Sort of gamekeeper, then?
Ted Sort of.
Margaret Have you ever been married?
Ted Once or twice. I was married to Sylvia Plath.
Margaret Never heard of her.
Ted Thank God for that. Have you yourself been...?
Ted Been married.
Margaret Yes, once or twice. No, just the once. It felt like lots more. Photographer chap, called....... He was named after a mountain. My bodyguard would know. I'd ask him, but I can't remember his name either.
Ted So you're understudy to the Queen, are you?
Margaret Oh, no! I used to be, but they don't need me for that anymore. I'm understudying the Queen Mother now.
Ted The Queen Mum?
Margaret Why not? Everyone agrees she's the mainstay of the Royal Family. Tragic when she goes, etc, etc. Have to fill the part immediately. Bit of a character, likes a glass now and then, twinkle in the eye...who better?
Ted I catch your drift.
Margaret So, who are you, and what do you do, and how long have you been doing it, and shall we have a drink?
Ted Oh, well, I look for butterflies
That sleep among the wheat:
I make them into mutton pies
And sell them in the street.
Margaret How fascinating. Tell me more...
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