THE table was booked for six under the name of Willcox. The caller to the cosy Waterman's restaurant in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, explained that the party would be taking advantage of special money-off vouchers from a national newspaper which meant their dinner would cost only pounds 5 a head.

So imagine the surprise of the restaurant's staff when the "Willcoxes" turned out to be the Princess Royal and her husband, Captain Timothy Laurence.

The couple, who brought with them the requisite two tokens but had not filled in their name and address "for security reasons", treated their friends to curried parsnip soup followed by a choice between venison sausages or a fish dish. Had they chosen from the standard menu, pounds 5 would have bought each diner a starter or a third of a main course.

The story, reported at the weekend, allows us a fascinating glimpse of life behind the closed doors of Gatcombe Park: Princess Anne eagerly scours her morning paper, scissors in hand.

She spots a coupon. Two for the price of one on Eurostar! Snip, snip. And what's this? A cut-price flight to Ireland! Snip, snip. And what about this? Ten pence off a packet of Persil! Snip, snip. And so on.

And why not? It may well be the case that the combined income of the Princess Royal and her husband is pounds 273,000, but what the restaurant episode shows is that just like the rest of us, the Princess can't resist a bargain.

I know I can't. Nestling in my kitchen at home is a rather nice cafetiere which I obtained by collecting coupons from packets of Silk Cut. For many years I'd managed to live without the benefit of a cafetiere, indeed had lived quite happily without one, give or take the odd unfortunate dinner party moment involving a real coffee bore.

But as soon as I saw I could have one for free, a cafetiere suddenly became a necessity. The fact that I've barely used it in the three years it's been in my possession hasn't diminished in any way my satisfaction in owning it.

And then there's British Telecom. A friendly BT salesperson who can't pronounce my surname properly rings me on an almost monthly basis to explain about all the different discount schemes and offers I've been missing out on. Naturally I agree to anything that's offered to me which might save me money, and I've agreed to so many different things in the past year that I now have no idea what I've agreed to.

I'm a member of Friends & Family, and I think I might even be a member of something called Friends & Family Plus, although it's possible I imagined that.

I have a feeling I've also got something called Premier Line, but I've no idea what it's for. I think it means I can pay my bill over the phone, but I've never tried to do it.

And then there are my Barclaycard Profile Points. Every month my statement tells me how many more points I've earned and what my running total is. I also have a glossy brochure showing me all the fabulous gifts I can get by cashing in my points. I've worked out that I get roughly a penny of gift value for every pound I spend, but this doesn't prevent me from feeling an avaricious tingle of anticipation every time I flash my plastic.

Will I ever cash my points in? Probably not. Perhaps the only surprising thing about the Princess Anne story is that she actually used her tokens. Most of us clip our coupons and collect our points but nine times out of 10 we never bother to do anything with them.

I once bought The Sun and the News of the World every day for about a month, religiously cutting out my tokens for free air tickets. Then when I'd collected them, I looked at the small print and it seemed a bit complicated, so I threw them away.

But Princess Anne is made of sterner stuff. They say the Royal Family should be setting an example, and in this instance she has undoubtedly been a model to us all. To my mind, she's right up there with Phil Calcott, the man who discovered last January that by buying 942lb of bananas at his local Tesco he could make a profit of pounds 25.12 on his Clubcard. Now there was a man who was really prepared to work for a bargain.

Me, I've got a Tesco Clubcard too, and I'm fully aware of all its benefits. It's just that I've never bothered to use it.

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