William Donaldson's Week: A royal family Christmas

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YOU MAY have read in the Sun on Monday that the Princess of Wales is planning to spend Christmas at Sandringham with the rest of the Royal Family.

''Ah,' you'll have thought, 'that's nice.' It's all right for you - at worst, you'll be comatose at home, without the energy, even, to channel-hop from Esther Rantzen in a televised snowball fight with transplant tots to The Great Escapeon the other side.

I, as a consequence of the Princess's decision, will be stuck with the Windsors, as back-up or moral support or something of the sort, trying to keep the peace when York, having already gone too far with ice cubes and a whoopee cushion, attempts to put a corgi in a bagpipe.

You'll gather from this (if you haven't gathered it from the altered announcement on my answering machine) that Classy Cressida's moved in - well, not moved in so much as refusing to move out after she'd fallen asleep on my drawing-room floor, thereafter instructing her chauffeur to pick up her possessions at her previous address and drop them off at mine.

And talking of cats - not that we were - who says they don't know the meaning of loyalty? My wife's cat, Suzie Blue, came to stay three weeks ago, allowing my wife to take her annual winter break in the Caribbean.

My wife doesn't give two hoots about Classy Cressida or anyone else, of course, but Suzie Blue doesn't know this (cats may not be as clever as they're loyal) and, on the day Classy Cressida moved in, Suzie Blue peed all over the Chanel suit which Classy Cressida had accepted as a peace offering after she'd been booked out by the Fat Cornishman when she should have been with me in Leamington Spa.

Anyway, my wife pitched up to collect Suzie Blue while we were still examining the damage, and she laughed fit to bust.

'This is Classy Cressida,' I said.

'How do you do?' my wife said. 'Sorry about the suit.'

'Don't worry,' said Classy Cressida. 'There'll be plenty more where that came from.'

'I wouldn't be at all surprised,' said my wife. 'Still - you're a great improvement on the last little scrubber.'

'How sweet of you to say so,' said Classy Cressida. 'Funnily enough, that's very similar to Mummy's opinion of your husband. 'It's such a relief, Cressida,' she says, 'that you're mixing with nice young people at last'.'

It may be a relief for Mummy, but it's causing me all manner of problems - not least the altered announcement on my answering machine, which surprised me when I first heard it as much as it must have surprised you.

'I can't have a man's voice on the answering machine,' Classy Cressida explained. 'All my admirers will hang up.'

'That's as may be,' I said, 'but what about my friends? What if Debbie Mason, whom I think I want to marry, rings?'

'Debbie Mason doesn't ring,' said Classy Cressida.

'That's true,' I said.

That was all right, then, but there are other and greater problems, for instance the fact that Classy Cressida still thinks it's normal to spend the occasional weekend at her parents' estate in Norfolk - an enterprise in which she's constantly trying to enlist me. I haven't spent a weekend in the country since 1962, on which occasion, and mistaking it for a fox, I inadvertently shot a local buffer's labrador.

'It wouldn't be so terrible,' Classy Cressida says. 'You get on very well with Mummy, and if Daddy tries to pull rank simply say, 'Don't come the half-Colonel with me, my old turkey; if I'd stayed in the Andrew I'd be an Admiral by now'.'

That would do the trick, no doubt, but I still have to

contend with the extraordinary diversity of Classy Cressida's social connections.

After a hard day developing El Independo with Geoff Atkinson at Kudos, I struggle home not knowing whether I'll find that Abby From The Eighties has been invited over with her restraining equipment and a party of Yardies, or whether the Princess of Wales, who, you may remember, was Classy Cressida's best friend at West Heath, has dropped in for Earl Grey tea and hot buttered toast.

The Princess of Wales came to tea on Tuesday and after she'd gone Classy Cressida asked me where I'd be spending Christmas this year.

'My wife,' I said, 'will as usual be visiting River Mountain Lodge in Breckenridge, Colorado, so I'll be in London looking after Suzie Blue.'

'No you won't,' said Classy Cressida. 'I've told Mummy that you'll be spending it with me in Norfolk.'

'Oh dear,' I said.

'There's worse,' said Classy Cressida. 'I've just agreed with Diana that we'll drive over to Sandringham on Christmas day. She's spending the holiday there so as not to be separated from the children, but she can't face it without moral support.'

'I bet she can't'

'Apparently, it's a nightmare. After they've exchanged presents - parts of Cornwall, minor European dukedoms, Dick Francis novels - and having toasted the chairman of the CBI, British bloodstock, the Deutschmark and so forth, they try to raise Fulke Walwyn on a ouija board.

'Then things turn nasty. They criticise each other's marital records and, after an exchange of insults - 'Spoilt brat]', 'Fogey]', 'Attic parasite]', 'Adulterous soak]' - they retire to their separate quarters, leaving Diana desperately trying to reach her London friends on the pay-phone in the hall.'

'It sounds like fun,' I said.

'I'll make it up to you,' said Classy Cressida. 'You can buy me another Chanel suit.'

There's always a bright side.