'Nasty episode' shows the true face of our royals

'Shortly after Hern came out of intensive care, the Queen's racing manager summoned the horse trainer's wife Sheilah - who was running the yard - and announced that the Queen was sacking him and that he was to be replaced by another trainer'
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Those still interested in how the royal wing of the British establishment conducts itself will be spoilt for choice in the coming weeks. In their local bookshop, they will find among the so-called "royal books" the through-the-keyhole account of life with Princess Diana, as told by her oily, traitorous former private secretary, Patrick Jephson. In the sport section can be found, as from this week, Peter Willett's authorised biography of the trainer Major Dick Hern, which casts light on the dealings of a rather more blue-chip courtier, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, and of his royal employer, the Queen.

Those still interested in how the royal wing of the British establishment conducts itself will be spoilt for choice in the coming weeks. In their local bookshop, they will find among the so-called "royal books" the through-the-keyhole account of life with Princess Diana, as told by her oily, traitorous former private secretary, Patrick Jephson. In the sport section can be found, as from this week, Peter Willett's authorised biography of the trainer Major Dick Hern, which casts light on the dealings of a rather more blue-chip courtier, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, and of his royal employer, the Queen.

Both volumes reveal disloyalty on a breathtaking scale but, for many, Jephson's sleazy act of betrayal will pale into insignificance beside the behaviour described by Peter Willett.

The facts of Dick Hern's falling out with the royal family are familiar in horse-racing circles, but only now has their full unpleasantness been revealed. One of the most successful trainers of modern times, he sent out 16 Classic winners from the stables owned by the Queen in Berkshire, in spite of being restricted to a wheelchair after a hunting accident. In 1988, he became seriously ill with heart trouble and there followed what another royal trainer, Ian Balding, has described as "the saddest, nastiest episode in racing history".

Shortly after Hern came out of intensive care, Lord Carnarvon, the Queen's racing manager, summoned his wife Sheilah, who was running the yard. There the man who, two months previously, had told the Racing Post that Hern was among the best trainers of all time, announced that the Queen was sacking him and that he was to be replaced by another trainer.

The medical grounds on which this decision was made were highly dubious. According to the three doctors who were attending Hern, he was likely to make a full recovery, but Carnarvon called in two more experts, the Queen's physician and the Jockey Club's chief medical officer, who advised retirement. Stable staff got the impression that it was the unanimous view of Hern's doctors that he would never be able to train again. This suggestion was also included in a letter from the Queen to Mrs Hern.

Rather than facing the trainer himself, Carnarvon put pressure on Sheilah Hern to type out letters of resignation to his other owners and to get her husband to sign them from his bed. "I was weak and gaga. I didn't know what I was signing. Had I been compos mentis, I would never have done so... It was a dirty trick," Hern says now.

The dirty tricks continued. As a result of this resignation, a solicitor told Mrs Hern that they had lost the right to stay in the house where they had lived since 1962; "I have been set up," she commented at the time.

Racing people are tough. Hern recovered. The decision to eject him and his wife from their home was reversed. He was set up in new stables by Sheikh Hamdan Al-Maktoum, and in 1989 trained the brilliant Nashwan to win the 2000 Guineas. But, soon afterwards, Sheilah Hern was found to have cancer. She died two years ago, and today Dick Hern says he has no doubt that the stress caused by these events contributed to her illness.

At one point, a palace adviser asked Hern to let friendly journalists know that he in no way blamed the Queen for any of this, but - in matters of racing if nothing else - Her Majesty operates a hands-on policy. It is inconceivable that she was not centrally involved in the "saddest, nastiest episode in racing history".

So, when the usual band of palace-lovers prate about integrity, honesty and the traditional values represented by the Royal Family, or when they express their shock at the disloyalty of the next Patrick Jephson, a two-word response is appropriate: Dick Hern.

* terblacker@aol.com

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