Carp not, you who know little of unhappy aristocrats

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
AS SENIOR adviser (soft furnishings) to the National Trust, I know better than anyone what a truly ghastly time our aristocracy has "making ends meet" (dread phrase!).

The grim burden of living in a fully-furnished house with well over two dozen bedrooms and a minimum of a dozen staff, excluding gardeners, chauffeurs, handymen etc, is hard for the ordinary layman to comprehend. But it is surely not difficult even for those unencumbered by these responsibilities to imagine the hell of waking up each morning knowing that the ballroom needs a new coat of paint, the tiles on the roof of the dovecote are coming loose, and the fountain on the lower lawn is wonky. And with the more militant household staff now demanding annual pay rises well into double figures, I think it little short of miraculous that we have any estates left at all.

Over the past 30-odd years, I have been happy to advise quite a number of our better families when they have encountered problems with their properties. The results speak for themselves. The Earl and Countess of Meckleburgh successfully converted the west wing of their beautiful Vanbrugh- designed Meckleburgh House, outside Lincoln, into a very tasteful 10- pin bowling alley, very much in keeping with its surroundings, which now incorporates a work-out centre, a solarium and a gaming hall. Similarly, Lord and Lady Leiston have been very happy to see their family home, Leiston Hall in Leicestershire, thrive in its new guise as the Leiston Price-U- Like Bingo Hall, with each of the bingo numbers individually crafted in antique Gothic script on to the corresponding ping-pong balls.

But the Government continues to put intolerable pressure on the landowner, forcing him to pay out of his own purse for such basic commodities as a Range Rover, restaurant meals and his children's education. Small wonder, then, that in a bid to keep the household repairs bill to a minimum, Earl Spencer has been driven to let the Great Unwashed (!) on to his estate to view his late sister's grave through their wretched little binoculars. As his lifelong mentor, it was I who, way back in the early 1990s, advised against letting the Princess - then still alive and kicking - occupy a cottage in the grounds, for fear she would attract unwholesome sightseers to the Althorp estate. But now that the Princess has passed away, her presence is another matter entirely, and 2,500 people a day at pounds 9.50 a throw seems a small price to pay for keeping her beloved memory alive.

Thanks to my advice, the shrine is all very much "in keeping". The general public will be permitted to stand or, for an extra 75p, kneel in a cordoned area just 100 yards from the island upon which the Princess is buried, and handkerchiefs embossed with the Spencer coat of arms will be available for purchase (pounds 8.50 for two) by those who find themselves overcome by grief.

An 18th-century stable block will be tastefully converted to house an exhibition celebrating Diana's life, with much-loved items from her childhood at Althorp including her four old Teletubby dolls and her ancient Spice Girls poster, replicas of which are on sale in the main hall. The 300- seater cafeteria will be selling special commemorative Griefburgers, allowing visitors to express their sorrow in a dignified manner even while they eat.

Though the general public will not be permitted to view the actual grave of the Princess, they will be more than welcome to view the trees surrounding the water surrounding the land surrounding the hedge behind which she is buried. Cuttings from similar trees will be available at pounds 16.50 from the Althorp Garden Centre, so that visitors may themselves plant a lasting commemorative tribute to the Princess within the confines of their own gardens.

Needless to say, there has been the inevitable sniping from those who accuse the Earl of profiting from the Princess's death. I would advise these cynical carpers to come to our Diorama Centre, set in the glorious confines of the east wing, where they will be able to watch exclusive home movies of the Princess as a child, laughing and playing without a care in the world. Are they really arguing that the general public should be deprived of this once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of the lovable little tot who was to grow up to become the nation's favourite royal?

With a magnificent three-figure sum from expected annual profits to be delivered direct to the Diana Memorial Fund after expenses have been deducted, we should stand and applaud the Earl's sense of duty in erecting this shrine to his late sister's memory. And what if he should come away with a little something to call his own? The aristocrat's lot is an unhappy one, but if the Earl can afford a new pair of shoes at the end of all this, one can scarcely begrudge him that small luxury.

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