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Lord Carnarvon last saw his godmother the Queen at Chelsea Flower Show in May. By then experiencing mobility problems, she was chauffeured around the gardens in a Royal Household buggy.
‘It was only very, very brief,’ says George Herbert, the 8th Earl, humbly. ‘We were there showing off the prototypes for the Highclere roses that are going to be available next year. She was being taken around in a little buggy and was amazed to see me.
‘She said, “Hello Geordie” [the Queen’s fond name for her godson]. We talked for literally 20 seconds and that’s the last time I was . . .’ His voice trails off.
‘I did feel she was becoming weaker [since Prince Philip’s death].
Lord Carnarvon last saw his godmother the Queen at Chelsea Flower Show in May. By then experiencing mobility problems, she was chauffeured around the gardens in a Royal Household buggy
‘It’s possible, when two people have had that much time together, if one goes, perhaps the other has to make so many mental changes it makes other things weaker in the body and they very sadly go as well.
‘Whether being heartbroken is really true — you can’t prove it in medicine — but it does happen, doesn’t it?’
On Monday, Lord and Lady Carnarvon will form part of the select group who personally knew the Queen at the intimate Committal Service in St George’s Chapel, which will follow her state funeral at Westminster Abbey. It is here that Her Majesty will be laid to rest, with her parents and beloved husband.
Like so many of us, Lord Carnarvon keeps finding himself, in his words, ‘flooded with emotion’. He and his wife, Fiona, ‘heard on the grapevine’ that his godmother the Queen had died ‘at about 3pm’ on Thursday. The official announcement came at 6.30pm.
On Monday, Lord and Lady Carnarvon will form part of the select group who personally knew the Queen at the intimate Committal Service in St George’s Chapel, which will follow her state funeral at Westminster Abbey
Three days later, he marked the 21st anniversary of his own father’s death — a man whom the Queen had counted as one of her closest friends. The 7th Earl, whom the Queen affectionately called Porchey, was not only her racing manager from 1969 until his death on September 11, 2001, but her confidant.
Because he died on the same day as the 9/11 atrocities, when Her Majesty made her emotional address to those who had lost loved ones in New York, many felt she also spoke of her dear friend Porchey when she said with heartfelt sadness: ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’
‘I went down with Fiona to my father’s grave [on Highclere Castle estate in Hampshire]. We just sat there silently with all the different memories going back so many years to when I was small, including our time spent with the Queen.
‘Her death was a huge shock for all of us. You’re a bit flooded with emotion really with the Queen passing and my father’s anniversary, because their lives were so entwined. They had a very special friendship.’
Porchey was one of the few people with a direct line to Her Majesty. They spoke often and shared many days of ‘great gaiety, great enjoyment,’ while ‘off parade’, as Lord Carnarvon puts it, at Sandringham, Windsor, Balmoral and here at Highclere Castle, familiar to millions as the setting for the TV series Downton Abbey.
This closeness between the monarch, her racing manager and their two families is vividly apparent in the intimate family photo albums the Carnarvons have generously, and exclusively, shared with the Mail to show the depth of their affection for the Queen.
Like so many of us, Lord Carnarvon (pictured) keeps finding himself, in his words, ‘flooded with emotion’
They provide a charming — and previously unseen — snapshot of Queen Elizabeth II and her family away from the public eye; a picture of the monarch, not just as head of state, but as a mother and friend.
They are also testament to a friendship that lasted through the generations.
One of the more recent photos, for example, shows a smiling Queen in wellies posing for a relaxed group photo alongside Prince Philip and the Carnarvons — Fiona, George and their son Edward — at Highclere in 2007.
Much earlier snaps reveal a grinning Charles — now our King — as a boy larking around at Balmoral, where the 7th Earl and his family would join the Royal Family on holiday. The Queen laughs uproariously as kilt-clad children muck around on the moorland.
Another shows Her Majesty cradling the current Earl at his christening in 1956, his proud parents standing by.
Numerous photos show Her Majesty and Porchey at the races or inspecting horses together. Indeed, they were so close that the ‘silly’ (Lord Carnarvon’s word) Netflix series The Crown tried to make mischief of it, suggesting an intimate relationship.
‘Everything about that series was wrong, from how my parents-in-law met, to what happened to friendships,’ says Lady Carnarvon. ‘None of us watched it because otherwise you just get upset and you can’t really answer back.’
‘Anyone can be a target for all sorts of silly, silly stuff but it [their friendship] was never anything,’ says Lord Carnarvon.
‘Absolutely not. The Queen and Prince Philip were very, very strong at a young age and the same with my parents.’
In 1956, the 7th Earl married Jeanie, from Wyoming, who became the Countess of Carnarvon — and who only died three years ago, in 2019.
Such was the bond of friendship between them that the Queen, who remained close to the Countess following the Earl’s death, attended her funeral.
‘My father and the Queen were just great, great friends. He’d known her since they were both quite small after being introduced at a party.
Much earlier snaps reveal a grinning Charles — now our King — as a boy larking around at Balmoral, where the 7th Earl and his family would join the Royal Family on holiday
‘He was one of the people who ran around London on VE Day with her and Princess Margaret incognito. She wasn’t obvious to people in her uniform with her hat so they all — there were about 12 of them — took off and congo-ed and ran around.
‘He was also a fountain of common sense and calm appraisal of things. There were regular phone conversations with my father always.’
Lady Carnarvon adds: ‘Your father would also go and stay there just to quietly walk around Sandringham stud. He was not someone to seek influence. He was simply a friend.
‘He wasn’t a courtier. They could have an honest silence.’
Lord Carnarvon, 65, agrees.
‘They were both country orientated people who had a great shared passion for thoroughbreds and breeding racehorses.
‘The Queen had an encyclopaedic mind about it. My father was pretty good but he always used to say he would be hard put to beat the Queen.
‘The excitement was just absolutely intense when she won. You can see it in the great photos of her when she won the big French classic race [the Prix de Diane at Chantilly in 1974] with Highclere, named because my grandfather’s stallion Queen’s Hussar [who sired her] stood at Highclere Stud.
‘It’s why this [the Queen’s death] is a poignant thing.
‘It’s the end of a great era — of my parents, of the Queen and Prince Philip. They were fantastic times . . . it’s difficult.’
He rubs a hand over his face to stop the tears that threaten. ‘I’m in floods of tears now,’ he apologises.
We meet in the grand library at Highclere which once rang to laughter on many nights of ‘great gaiety’. The 7th Earl was a larger- than-life character with a penchant for amateur dramatics and the Queen was a regular visitor to the castle.
‘The Queen had an amazing singing voice and thoroughly enjoyed all of that. She used to go and watch your father, didn’t she?’ Lady Carnarvon turns to her husband of 23 years.
Lord Carnarvon concurs: ‘Absolutely. He liked all the fun of parties and music and practical jokes. Charades was a big game my father and Her Majesty liked. She was pretty good.
‘It’s the end of a great era — of my parents, of the Queen and Prince Philip. They were fantastic times . . . it’s difficult’
‘When the Queen was, as you might say, off parade she had a great sense of fun, although you had to have the gin and Dubonnet done the right way.’
Today, the mood is sombre.
Lord Carnarvon, who’s usually more comfortable outdoors in an open-necked shirt, wears the black tie of mourning. His gaze is drawn time and again towards the writing desk lined with photographs of the Queen. There are so many memories.
‘They talked about wider subjects than just horses,’ he says.
‘She’d discuss with my father her overall views about things in life. It’s not something I would be necessarily always privy to. She very much saw the amusing side of things and wanted people to have fun when they were around her.
‘She was always the sovereign but there was an element of being more relaxed and informal until you were back on parade again.’
He turns to Lady Carnarvon and says: ‘Do you remember Windsor Castle and how we used to speed — because there’s enormous distances in the building — to get to the formal meals on time on weekends there?’
‘Yes, and I’d usually have my shoes off and be running along the corridor, stopping before going round the corner to put my shoes back on and then try to walk in a more stately fashion to make sure we were not late.’
The Queen has been a part of Lord Carnarvon’s life since he was a few weeks old.
The photograph of her holding him at his christening is on the writing desk, alongside those of a carefree Queen out in the fields. You can see how truly relaxed she was here with those she trusted.
‘One of the things the Queen did appreciate here was the fact she was going to a place where the family was still fully engaged in the farming scene.
‘One of the things the Queen did appreciate here was the fact she was going to a place where the family was still fully engaged in the farming scene’
‘She came here for the horses but she and my father used to go out on the estate in general and talk about sheep or beef cattle or all the crops. I know that’s very much associated with Prince Philip and indeed Prince Charles, but I think it’s sometimes forgotten how interested the Queen was in the land. I used to go out with my father among the foals and yearlings with him and with her.
‘She also gave my father one of the best working dogs he’d ever had, this cocker spaniel called Mango. He was trained by the Queen’s dog man and he was extraordinary. It was these sort of relationships that are important.’
Lord Carnarvon’s earliest memory in life is being brought down to see the Queen when he was a small boy in short trousers. ‘It was at teatime at Milford Lake House (his parent’s home on the estate) where I grew up.
‘I really was quite small. It would have been in the era when I was brought in by a nanny — a kid sort of this high with shorts.’ He raises his hand to the height of the arm on the sofa.
At 13 years old he was her Page of Honour, holding her train at the State Opening of Parliament in 1970.
‘It was very kind of her but fairly terrifying that one was expected to be doing this kind of thing,’ he says, explaining he was a very shy child.
‘You can imagine in the preparation room you get to see the incredible crown and the diamonds and all of it and the incredibly terrifying Duke of Norfolk [the formidable 16th Duke Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard] is in charge.
Lord Carnarvon’s earliest memory in life is being brought down to see the Queen when he was a small boy in short trousers
‘He was saying, “Oh, you’re going to be walking into this room. There’s going to be 700 members of the House of Lords”. No one told me that the trumpet was going off and I was going to jump about six inches in the air.’
Lord Carnarvon also remembers the barbecues at Balmoral where Prince Philip was ‘the absolute chef excellence there’s ever been’ and picnics where ‘the weather was never going to be a barrier to anything so there was certainly a Britishness about it …
‘I remember being at Balmoral and being asked to help with the feeding of the corgis.
‘When you’ve been there you’re not sure how friendly, necessarily, they’re going to be.’
Lord Carnarvon’s eyes rest on the photographs for a final time. ‘Those days are the past,’ he says. ‘They were fantastic and they were kind but it’s all gone.
‘We look forward now to supporting King Charles and that’s that. It was a great era and it is no more.
‘I shall get emotional again now, but Monday is going to be a really tough day for everybody.’