Notebook: Royal roundabouts threaten charities' swings: As domestic scandals rock the House of Windsor, fundraisers are worried that royal patronage may soon fail to attract those pounds 1,000 handshakes

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'ONE DOESN'T want to be awarded the Order of the Brown Nose,' the charity lady said, 'but there is a great deal of loyalty to her out there.' Do I need to say who we were talking about? It is not the Duchess of York; she comes in later. It is the Princess of Wales.

I will give you the good news first. The Royal Family's domestic scandals have not yet affected the world of charity. The great British public hasn't made the connection, and hardly any flak has hit the charities that the two women are associated with. But a lot of people out there are fearful that, when the penny drops, it will drop for good.

The charity world exudes deference, especially in the upper reaches where female organisers are called ladies, never women, and members of the Royal Family are always 'Royals', until perhaps they go into exile. The curtseying is quite understandable when you discover that the charity business in Britain has an annual turnover of just less than pounds 20bn, a figure equal to Ireland's gross national product. Ten years ago it was a mere pounds 8bn, according to the Charities Aid Foundation, making 'charity' one of the fastest growing sectors in the country, until the recession (for the past couple of years it has levelled off).

The Royal Family's role in this is central: it brings in the money, it keeps the volunteers happy, it satisfies lots of social pretensions and it gives the family something worthwhile to do. Its motives, too, have changed from the obvious self-interest of earlier centuries to today's 'mucking in'. Princess Anne's minute-taking for Save the Children Fund may help her image, but it cannot be compared with Henry VI's blatant charity, Eton College, set up to educate bright but poor boys to staff his bureaucracy. By Queen Victoria's time, the Family members were figureheads, and so largely they remained until the 1980s, say charity organisers, when they adopted a hands-on approach.

No charity organiser will put a figure on the Family's worth to the business: it is too ephemeral. 'I'm not prepared to speculate,' Michael Brophy, director of Charities Aid Foundation, said. 'But you don't hold a multi-million dollar appeal without trying to get a member, or members, of the Royal Family somewhere in the offing.'

A 'serious Royal', such as the Queen and her immediate family - as opposed to a 'not-so-serious Royal', such as Prince Michael of Kent and his wife - is worth about pounds 1,000 a handshake, according to an unnamed charity organiser who has been popping in and out of newspaper items for the past year. I couldn't track him down, but Michael North of the Directory of Social Change said it was a fair price. When the Queen Mother opened a community sports centre in Crewe, he said, the organisers invited almost every businessman in town. They didn't have to pay to get through the door, but a few days later, the grateful gentlemen coughed up a grand each. Buckingham Palace either can't count or has lost the record, for when I asked how many charities each member of the Royal Family was patron of, the woman on the end of the telephone told me to go to my public library and look it up in an encyclopedia. I turned instead to Mr Brophy's Charities Aid Foundation. There they all are, 1,101 by my count: fashionable ones, obscure ones, artistic ones, sporting ones, scientific ones, unlikely ones.

On the first page under the title, Her Majesty the Queen, you will find the Additional Curates Society. When I telephoned its headquarters in Birmingham - and this is the number for prospective donors: 021-382 5533 - to find out what this worthy body did to deserve such grand patronage, a lady at the end of the line said it was a Victorian charity that seeks money from richer parishes to pay for a curate in a poorer one. I forgot to ask when Additional Curates last had a pounds 1,000 handshake or a charity ball. I fear that it may have been under previous monarchs; you could almost hear the scratching of quill pens in the background.

Before directing me to the public library, Buckingham Palace said that the sovereign generally inherited his or her patronages from his or her predecessor. Battersea Dogs' Home was one such; Additional Curates was certainly another. Newer charities which sought royal patronage tended to be passed around to other Family members, depending on their interests. The patronage pecking order is surprising: some so-called 'serious Royals' - such as the Duke of York, his estranged wife and his brother Prince Edward - seem to be less popular with charities.

Charity organisers will not publicly admit that they have their own royal ranking, but it is the Queen again who delivers the biggest collection of pounds 1,000 handshakes and puts more bottoms on seats at charity galas; and you can up the ticket price with her. The rub comes at the next level: the punters will dip deep into their pockets if the Prince and Princess of Wales appear together; short of that, they prefer the Princess alone, the Prince then joining the royal gaggle at the bottom of the barrel. The Queen Mother, however, maintains her seat one step below Diana.

Royal patronage doesn't necessarily ensure a charity's success, but Rosamund Wynn-Pope, a professional fundraiser formerly with Save the Children and now with Action on Addiction, said it would help raise more money more quickly. In the long run, though, unless the charity's objectives were worthwhile and in the public interest, it would not help even if all 18 members of the Family were on the letterhead. I suspect the poor old Additional Curates fell into that trap. (Come on, all you pounds 1,000-ers out there, give them a handshake.)

Vivienne Parry of Birthright, reputedly a favourite charity of the Princess of Wales, said: 'My guiding principle about any event is that it has to make money by itself. You must always regard a Royal as the cherry on top of the cake. If the whole thing is based on having a Royal, it is probably doomed to failure anyway.' I can report, however, that all the charities are waiting to see what happens next to the royal marriages. The Princess of Wales, as I have mentioned, seems safe. 'I don't think her marital problems will have any effect on the way Birthright feels about the Princess of Wales,' Mrs Parry said. And, off the record, less confident charity organisers associated with Diana say the same.

The Duchess of York is different. Though her charities remain loyal despite last month's poolside consultations in the south of France, how long can it last? When does a wayward Family member stop being an asset and become a liability? The Duchess's engagements have been cancelled, but what happens if she and Prince Andrew are legally separated?

The charities are in a terrible quandary. They can inform the Palace of their concern and sever ties, but they won't get alternative royal patronage for a few years, if ever. Most likely they will wait to see what the autumn and Christmas fundraising seasons bring in before deciding whether the Duchess should be expunged from their letterheads.

If the money rolls in, the charities will relax a bit, and hope perhaps that, if she is divorced, a letter will arrive on Buckingham Palace notepaper that begins: 'In view of recent developments, I feel I can no longer serve your cause as well as I would have . . .'

Lightweight: Princess Michael of Kent, patron of 23 charities, including Anglo-Hellenic League, Campaign to Restore East Carriage Ride in London's Hyde Park, Kennel Club, Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation

Middleweight: Princess Anne, patron of 72 charities, including ADRA Equine Research & Grass Sickness Fund, Association of Combined Youth Clubs, British Olympic Association, and Save the Children Fund

Heavyweight: the Queen, patron of 203 charities, including British and Foreign Bible Society, Cinema and Television Development Fund, Devon Agricultural Association, Mission to Seamen, Navy League

Heavyweight: the Queen Mother, patron of 145 charities including Aldeburgh Foundation Music Festival, Barnados, Bomber Command Association, Distressed Gentlefolk's Aid Association, Research into Ageing

Middleweight: Prince Philip, patron of 104 charities, including Action Research, British School at Athens, Festival of German Arts, Game Conservancy, Grand Order of Water Rats, Hurlingham Polo Association

Lightweight: the Duchess of York, patron of 24 charities, including Combined Services Winter Sports Association, National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies of GB, Royal Aero Club, Yorkshire Museum

Heavyweights: the Princess of Wales is patron of 70 charities, including 1993 - Year of the Dance, Birthright, Guinness Trust, Help the Aged, National Aids Trust, St Mary's Save the Baby Fund, Turning Point. Prince Charles is patron of 118, including British Deer Society, the Fruiterers' Company, Mountbatten Memorial Trust, Royal Town Planning Institute, South Atlantic Fund

(Photographs omitted)