A chip off the old block? Not Dave

Viscount Linley is the Royal with a job. He's in furniture - £450 magazine racks, satinwood tables, that sort of thing. How do you ensure this top-drawer joiner isn't a posh cowboy? Check out his builder's bum
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The Independent Online

As it happens, my meeting with Viscount Linley is extraordinarily fortuitous. Just that morning, in fact, I'd opened a window at home and - whoosh - the wind took it out of my hands, throwing it back against the wall, smashing the glass and frame and everything. Of course, I tell him, I could work my way through the Yellow Pages starting, I guess, with Aaaaaaaaaaaaaardvark Carpenters but, you know, while I'm here. That said, I'm not interested in giving you my custom if you operate on a "morning" or "afternoon" basis. I've got better things to do then hang about all day waiting for tradesmen.

As it happens, my meeting with Viscount Linley is extraordinarily fortuitous. Just that morning, in fact, I'd opened a window at home and - whoosh - the wind took it out of my hands, throwing it back against the wall, smashing the glass and frame and everything. Of course, I tell him, I could work my way through the Yellow Pages starting, I guess, with Aaaaaaaaaaaaaardvark Carpenters but, you know, while I'm here. That said, I'm not interested in giving you my custom if you operate on a "morning" or "afternoon" basis. I've got better things to do then hang about all day waiting for tradesmen.

"Of course, madam," he says. "How does 3pm sound?"

"Perfect. What do you take? Milk and three sugars?"

"I always bring my own flask, actually."

"And no builder's bum, please."

"I can assure you that I do not do builder's bum," he says.

He is rather marvellously game, I must say. You don't expect him to be, but he is.

We meet at his showroom, David Linley and Co, in Pimlico. It is a frighteningly smart place full of frighteningly smart and expensive bespoke wooden furniture - everything from maple photograph frames at £160 a go through to oak magazine racks (£450), sycamore key boxes (£650), walnut and satinwood circular tables which, frankly, I daren't ask the price of, and an incredible, port-cullis desk, which I do. (£30,000! I'll have two, please.)

When he arrives - handsome, no builder's bum, but dressed rather like the Milk Tray man - I tell him I'm depressed. I tell him I can now see that the nasty, cheap melamine Ikea crap that fills my house is just that: nasty, cheap, melamine Ikea crap. He says: "Oh, but I go to Ikea all the time."

I say I'm sorry, but I just can't see you in the self-service warehouse somehow. "But they do good bedside tables," he insists, "and nice lights for £9.99." But it's flimsy rubbish. It falls apart. He disagrees. "It's beautifully designed. The problem is people, who put it together badly." I say that when he comes round to measure up the window, he might want to take a look at the Ikea bathroom cabinet I assembled upside down. "I can see that I'll have to," he says. He's brilliantly obliging. I might even ask him to baby-sit, while he's about it.

We settle on to a plush, vivid red, David Linley sofa, where I confess I'd been hideously nervous about meeting him. A royal! Son of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon - who divorced when he was 14 - with the Queen as an aunt and the Queen Mother as granny. I mean, I don't even know what to call you? What should I call you? Sir? Mr Viscount? Your Royal Nephewness?

"How about Dave?" he says. Dave? Dave? I exclaim, outraged. "I went to curtseying school for six weeks before coming here today, and you say: "Call me Dave?"

"Is that the curtseying school in Chertsey?" he asks. See? He is game. And he can send himself up, too. I ask if his son, Charlie, now 14 months, is speaking yet. He says: "Oh yes, and his first words were chandelier and Labrador." Truly? "No," he says. OK, OK. I accept this doesn't make him Woody Allen. But it's a hopeful sign.

You do have to hand it to him, I think. You may or may not like his stuff - it may be a bit too chi-chi hotel or rich American grandmother who lives in St John's Wood - but, unlike most of the royals, he has always gone out to work, at least. And furniture has always been his passion, yes. He has just bought out a book, Design and Detail in the Home, which includes the recollection: "Even at boarding school I had a tendency to move the dorm furniture around." Really? "Yes. It just rather broke up the monotony of always being in the same place. You can't do it now, though, because all the furniture is built in."

He started making things at boarding school, too, because, frankly - and unlike Prince Andrew, say, who I think was sharp enough to once win a prize for best-kept rabbit - he wasn't much cop at anything else. He never shone academically. Where were you in the class? "Bottom." Did you mind? "Not really, but it's why I particularly enjoyed being in the woodwork workshop, making things, because it meant at the end of term you could take home something physical and say: I created this. Sorry about the exam results, by the way."

Did you get any O-levels or anything? "I don't think so." What did your parents say? "They were not impressed." He says he won his first prize ever last year. For? "Excellence in a luxury industry for a small company." Great, I say. "Yes," he says. "It was the most extraordinary thing, to actually succeed in winning something." He is touchingly thrilled.

Anyway, the book is brilliant interiors porn, filled as it is with gorgeous photographs of gorgeous rooms belonging to gorgeous tip-top people - Elton John's bedroom, Stephen Bayley's drawing room, Nina Campbell's study, his father's kitchen and hallway but, frustratingly, none of Princess Margaret's rooms. How come? "I didn't think it appropriate."

Which is your favourite room in the book? "My father's kitchen has got to be a fairly good one because I've always had such fun in it. He has a wonderful chandelier which he decided to make go up and down so that at lunch time it's up, but when you go to dinner it's down. Deeply impractical, but great fun." And who says these people don't know how to enjoy themselves?

Dave has, actually, just bought a house round the corner from the showroom which he and his wife, Serena - née Stanhope, and daughter of Viscount Petersham - are currently doing up. "It's a wonderful old house that hasn't been touched for years and years. It has no heating. I asked the lovely lady who is selling it why it has no heating, and she said it's because it's bad for furniture."

In the meantime, the Linley's have been staying with his mother in her Kensington Palace apartment. I wonder how that has been working out. Do you fight over what to watch on telly? Do you shout: "But, mum! It's not fair! I want to watch Changing Rooms!" He says, no. "That doesn't matter too much. We tend to get videos." Of? "Oh God, I don't know. Old films." Like? "Actually, what I'd quite like to have is old films like my father used to have. There is that wonderful thing of it going round and round and having to change reels and everything." What did you watch with your father, then? "Peter Sellers. The Marx brothers."

We are exactly the same age, 39, and, yes, can chat happily. The first record you ever bought, Dave? "'Hellraiser' by Sweet on Polydor." Weren't flares awful when they got wet, Dave? "Yah. They used to come round and hit you." But it's almost impossible to get any detailed, personal information out of him. He is fantastically guarded. Do you believe in God, Dave? "I was brought up a Christian. I was christened and confirmed and married in the Church of England." Yes, but do you believe in God? "These questions are getting terrible. Isn't your time up?" What's your earliest memory. Dave? "Not falling out of a window." Not falling out of a window? Yes, he says. He used to think he could fly. It was his nanny, Nanny Sumner, who saved him. What was she like?

"She was great."

What did you call her?

"Nanny."

What did she look like?

"Grey hair."

Was she affectionate?

"Mmmmm."

Is your mother affectionate?

"Very."

"Did you always know your aunt was the Queen?"

"Yes."

Well, as it happens, my aunt is Queen of her cul-de-sac in Totteridge. Nothing happens in that road without my Auntie Sylvia knowing. So don't pull rank on me.

"I haven't. I wasn't even going to mention it until you bought it up."

Oh.

I know I'm not going to get anything juicy on the royals from him. (Is your mum dying to get shot of you? "You'll have to ask her." ) So we talk about other things, like the patched, bleached jeans we both wore in the Seventies - "I was one of the first to have them," he insists - and school.

He was first dispatched to boarding school at seven. Seven! Do you remember your first night there? "There were four other people in the room. It was great. But then, after a week, you realised it was going to go on for longer than a night and you thought: Hang on a minute, I've been conned. In those days it was fairly basic. Cold, if I remember rightly. And strict, with Latin and Greek and communal footbaths after football."

I wonder if Charlie will be similarly dispatched.

"I don't know. We've put him down for lots of schools because everyone rings you up and says you must. I think it's a matter of judging his character and what he wants to do."

But what are the advantages to boarding school? "Well, it makes you a better survivor, because you have to be constantly on the alert. You can't go home." And that's a good thing? "It depends on the person. If you're a tough person, it doesn't matter."

I'm not sure that he's an especially free thinker. Do you enjoy reading books, Dave? "I read a lot of decorative art books and pattern books. I wouldn't say I was bookworm by any stretch of the imagination. We made a lovely lectern for a library recently, though."

Still, I think he's probably a very decent man. He is generous with his time. He takes me upstairs to meet his staff and designers. He says, as I go: "Look, give me your address, and I'll have someone come round to do your window." I say I wouldn't dream of troubling him. That I'll contact Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaardvark. Still, it was incredibly nice of him to offer. Indeed, I tell him that if he weren't already spoken for, and was Jewish, I'd have him like a shot. He says something like: "Well, my father's father's father's father's first cousin twice removed was Jewish."

I think I'm in with a chance. Although that might not be as exciting as it sounds. He has, after all, been 12th in line to the throne for an awfully long time now. I bet he wished he'd joined the quicker queue.

'Design and Detail in the Home' is published by Little, Brown, £30

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