How Britain's Queen Mother kept the bills down

Mon May 17, 2010 4:33pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's Queen Mother may have lived a life of wealth and privilege, but she could look London's East End in the eye when it came to savings on clothes and home furnishings, according to a former aide.

When the last Empress of India died eight years ago she left behind a stable of racehorses, hundreds of servants, priceless jewels and wardrobes of haute couture -- as well as debts in the millions of pounds.

Now former equerry Ashe Windham has revealed to British newspapers an endearingly frugal side to the Queen Mother, which saw her rent, rather than buy, a television and video recorder for use at the Castle of Mey in Caithness, Scotland.

Windham, who now chairs the Castle of Mey Trust, which maintains the landmark as a tourist attraction, said that after dinner the household used to move into the library and rearrange the furniture to face an ancient rental television, which arrived every summer from a local shop.

"The most challenging job was to get the equally antiquated video recorder to work properly," the Times newspaper quoted Windham as saying.

"This achieved, we would all sit and watch one of her favorite comedies, which included Dad's Army, Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister, Keeping Up Appearances and One Foot in the Grave."

And despite her perceived penchant for the grandest of clothing, the Queen Mother refused to throw out the six Burberry raincoats she owned and would wear them year after year.

Even the Castle of Mey, which she saved from ruin, was kept simply, with the Queen Mother refusing to replace some of the decor which dated back decades.

"The decorations were put in between 1952 and 1955 and I'm led to believe that nothing much was changed after that," he said. "I remember saying on one occasion, "Ma'am, the curtains in one of the upstairs bedrooms are rather falling to bits'.   Continued...

<p>Members of public gather outside Westminster Abbey for the funeral of the Queen Mother in central London, April 9, 2002. REUTERS/Paul Mcerlane</p>