Blessed are the cheese-processors

PLUS: Steiff bears, Royal toadies, parish councillors, garden gnomes and much, much more!

The Queen’s decision to cut the number of mourners from 800 to just 30 means I will not be attending Prince Philip’s funeral tomorrow.

It’s disappointing, because were it not for this accursed pandemic I would have been a shoo-in for an invite.

A few years ago the Duke’s son, Prince Charles, came to inspect a cheese factory in Appleby. Because I happened to know the manager, I was invited to attend — and because it was a rare opportunity to meet the future king, and because she was on half-term holiday, I took the Ayatollah.

While Charles toured the facilities, we waited outside with a select group of well-wishers. And when, after an hour or so, HRH emerged to shake a few hands, I did what any proud father would do and pushed my daughter to the front of the queue.

In her Puffa jacket and leggings, the Ayatollah was, I thought, a perfect simulacrum of a teenage commoner from the north of England, someone Charles would immediately home in on, if only for the photo-op.

Sure enough, he approached and clasped her shellac-nailed hand in his own.

“And are you part of the cheese-making process?” he asked.

The Ayatollah, normally so chatty, was struck dumb. Charles, meanwhile, had already moved down the line. But as he did so his eye caught mine, and I’m convinced something passed between us — confirmation, perhaps, of the unspoken bond that exists between fathers, the knowledge that whatever our background and privilege we must remain role models to our children.

I’d like to think that, when he got back to Buckingham Palace that night, Charles mentioned our encounter to his own father. And that Philip, impressed by what he’d heard, immediately added me to the list for his funeral, whenever that might be.


BEAR NECESSITY

Am I bitter that the Queen has seen fit to invite such comparative nobodies as Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden, and Prince Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse, to Windsor Castle at my expense?

A little, perhaps — but then Her Majesty is clearly demented with grief and was not thinking straight when she drew up the final list of 30.

Not to worry. I’ve already invested the money I would have spent on an Admiral’s uniform on a limited edition Prince Philip Memorial Bear by Steiff.

Hand-crafted from finest mohair with black felt paw pads, this touching memento wears a 22 carat gold-plated medallion — engraved with an image of the Prince in naval uniform — and a simple black armband embroidered with the Duke’s royal monogram. It’s even got his dates on its feet.

At just £249, (or five interest-free instalments of £49.80, plus postage and packaging), it is, as Steiff points out, “a bear to honour and celebrate the life of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh” — and furthermore I’m sure it’s what he would have wanted.

I shall cuddle my teddy during tonight’s screening of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh Remembered, the four hours of live funeral coverage tomorrow, as well as the highlights on BBC2 later on. I have already named it Mountbatten.


SINS OF THE FATHER

In truth I blame my father for the fact I have missed the cut for tomorrow’s ceremony.

During his career as a television executive he met Philip on several occasions and earned a reputation in the Royal household as an insufferable toady.

Indeed when Prince Charles was overheard saying, “I can't bear that man. He's so awful. He really is,” about Royal reporter Nicholas Witchell he was repeating verbatim the words used by the Duke about my father during a visit to the Yorkshire TV studios the previous year.

The moment is captured in the photograph above. Such was the old man’s lust for a Knighthood he didn’t even flinch when Philip told him to get his hair cut.


PROTEST VOTE

My mother, meanwhile, has been re-elected to Bishop Middleham Parish Council.

I fear the voters don’t know what they are letting themselves in for. During her first term mother’s brand of native populism proved hugely divisive in this quaint Co Durham village, and her calls to build a wall to block immigrants from nearby Sedgefield caused uproar among her fellow councillors.

Fuelled by a second AstraZeneca jab, her veins fizzing with chimpanzee vectors, who knows what she is capable of this time round? Trade sanctions against Ferryhill? All-out war against Spennymoor?  If she doesn’t get her way I envisage hordes of supporters wearing Make Bishop Middleham Great Again hats storming the church hall in protest against the liberal elite.


GNOME ALONE

With Covid now a distant memory, and the Duke of Our Hearts soon to be buried, we must turn our attention to more pressing matters.

Firstly, the legal challenge launched by Marks & Spencer to protect its Colin the Caterpillar chocolate cake. According to the store’s lawyers, Aldi’s newly-launched Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake infringes Colin’s copyright.

Should the matter ever reach court, my money is on M&S. In recent years its top team of litigators has seen off Sainsbury’s Wiggles the Caterpillar, Tesco’s Curly the Caterpillar, Morrison’s Morris the Caterpillar, Waitrose’s Cecil the Caterpillar and the Co-op’s frankly risibly Curious Caterpillar Cake.

Of far greater concern, now that Covid infection and death rates are plummeting, is the UK-wide shortage of garden gnomes thanks to the double whammy of the Suez Canal blockage and a steep rise in demand during lockdown.

In the face of such unspeakable horror, all I can say is thank God the pubs are open.

Try and have a good weekend.