The Queen's former private secretary, Lord Charteris, 81, has claimed that the Duchess was "a vulgarian...vulgar, vulgar, vulgar," and predicted that the Royal Family will survive the scandals and marital break-ups that have bedeviled it.
A number of opinion-formers yesterday took issue with Lord Charteris, saying that when it came to being common there was little to separate the Duchess of York from the rest of the Royal Family.
"The Queen is a vulgarian, she could be the most important patron of the arts. Instead she collects glass animals," said the writer Germaine Greer, who described the Windsors "as dull as dishwater [and] the commonest family in the country".
She added: "They are obscenely wealthy and have barely commissioned a single work of art. "What about commissioning music for the royal fireworks, a fountain, a statue, anything?"
The fuss over the vulgarity of royal hangers-on was prompted by Lord Charteris, in an interview in the Spectator magazine published yesterday. Lord Charteris retired in 1977 after five years as private secretary to the Queen and 28 years of service in the Palace.
He has not denied his remarks but says they were made off the record.
For all their fabulous wealth, the royals do not buy paintings, although they did commission a portrait of the Queen Mother, the Queen and Princess Margaret by the Italian artist Pietro Annigoni.
According to Ms Greer, one of the Queen's most vulgar appearances was in Moscow this year when she paraded in "an amazing sable coat that made her look like a fur covered beehive. I'm sure it must have cost £45,000 and I suppose the Russians gave it to her," she said.
The writer Anthony Holden believes the "entire concept of the monarchy is vulgar in what purports to be a democracy". He also faults the royals for failing to provide cultural leadership, saying they are so low-brow "they'd rather go to see South Pacificthan Don Giovanni".
Harold Brooks-Baker, managing director of Burke's Peerage, said Lord Charteris was in danger of trying to impose a middle-class gentility on the Royal Family. "He is being unduly hard on the Duchess of York. There have always been members of the Royal Family who have not been particularly refined.
"If you sat the Duchess of York next to Henry VIII, you would have an interesting time deciding who was the most vulgar. I would have thought thattalking about these things in public is more uncultured than anything the Royal Family has done in recent years."
The columnist Julie Burchill said the notion that the Duchess of York was more vulgar than the others was nonsense. "The royals are all extremely vulgar and common and that's why they've survived all these years. The French royal family were hoity-toity and were topped, but ours are just common and go on and on."
Stephen Haseler, chairman of the Republican Society, said: "Vulgarity is a class thing and the royals are neither very clever nor hard-honest working people." He suggested the best thing was for the monarchy to be abolished. "What we need is a new head of state."
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