I am delighted to share with you the first 12 pages of my book, The Queen’s Corgi: On Purpose!
If you’d like to know a little more about why I wrote to the book, check out this two minute video:
Now, find yourself a nice, snuggly spot for a few minutes and enjoy!
This book is being written by royal decree.
Well, sort of.
It all began on my favourite day of the year – the first of the Queen’s annual summer visit to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. We three royal corgis were in a state of high excitement.
Having travelled up from Windsor with the household staff the previous day, we had arrived too late to see the Queen, who had already retired for the evening. Still closeted in a downstairs scullery when the family had left for church that morning, we were released just a few minutes before they were expected home.
The three of us romped through the ground floor, reacquainting ourselves with favourite suntraps and hidey-holes. We snuffled at the hearthrugs on which we had spent many a happy evening toasting ourselves before glowing log fires. We poked our snouts into half-forgotten corners, and raised them inquisitively towards the window, taking in the scents of gorse and heather, evocations of rambling country walks in summers past.
Winston, older than the Queen herself – albeit in dog years – headed with unusual haste towards the drawing room: the scene of his most tantalising discovery to date. It was behind a leather wing chair in the room, five years earlier, that he had come upon an overlooked and entirely uneaten plate of lobster vol-au-vents. He had devoured the snack in minutes. No matter how many unrewarded return visits he made to the room, whenever he turned in its direction the memory of that glorious find would light up his grizzled features.
Margaret, meantime, was trotting through the corridors, ears pointed and eyes alert. Her herding instincts stronger than most royal corgis, and her demand for service absolute, she was especially watchful of the staff. As every liveried helper in the royal household was painfully aware, the slightest infraction or delay could provoke a cautioning nip to the ankles.
I soon found my way to the large bay window in the dining room, and hopped up onto the broad, tartan-cushioned sill overlooking a corner of the garden. Twelve months before, that corner had been Football’s favourite spot. Over the years I had struck up a special friendship with the large, marmalade cat who was a permanent resident of Balmoral. But scanning the landscape I could see no sign of him at present.
The sound of footmen and security heading towards the main entrance had all three of us racing from different parts of the castle as fast as our short legs would carry us. The front door was opened and from it we watched as the familiar convoy of cars approached the castle before slowing to a gracious stop. We scrambled down the short flight of steps. No matter which of the cars the Queen occupied, our canine instincts always led us unerringly to it.
You may very well wonder what it is like to find yourself in the presence of the Queen. Having seen a million of images of her on TV and in the papers, encountering her profile daily on banknotes, coins and postage stamps, it is only natural that you’d be curious to know how it feels to encounter one of the world’s most famous people directly and in person.
Well, my fellow subject, let me enlighten you. When you meet the Queen, she is exactly as you would expect her to be – in appearance, at least. But she has another quality that catches most people by surprise. A quality which no television camera can capture and which few members of the media pack, corralled firmly behind ever-present railings, gets close enough to discover. You see, such is the Queen’s sense of calling that, wherever she goes, she carries with her an almost-tangible expectation that your own deepest wish, like hers, is to serve a greater purpose.
To say that most people are caught unawares by this sensation would be an understatement. Expecting restrained and aloof, when they encounter Her Majesty’s gentle but firm expectation of benevolence, they find themselves wishing – perhaps to their own surprise – to be the best that they can be. To act in accord with their highest ideals. I have witnessed many people who are so taken aback by this unspoken appeal to their own better natures that they’re quite overcome with emotion.
‘Hello, my little ones!’ the Queen greeted us that day as she emerged from the car. Winston and Margaret were red and white Pembrokes, while I had the distinction of a sable-coloured saddle on my back. All three of us rushed about her ankles, our tail stubs wagging frenziedly. We were as delighted to feel her gloved hands patting our necks as she seemed thrilled to see us after more than 24 hours apart.
Soon the whole family was heading inside.
‘Very nice service,’ the Queen remarked as they made their way to the drawing room.
‘Kenneth always has something sensible to say,’ agreed Camilla.
‘Outside the church was a bit worrying,’ observed Charles. ‘How many journalists?’ Tugging at his earlobe, he used much the same tone of voice as if querying a troubling aphid infestation at his rose garden at Highgrove.
‘Twice as many as last year,’ said William.
‘The numbers are growing.’ The Queen was apprehensive.
One of the reasons she so enjoyed these visits to Scotland was the opportunity to get away from the constant prying of telephoto lenses and long-range microphones.
As Her Majesty settled on a sofa, Philip eased himself down gingerly beside her. He looked over at her, with a fiercely protective expression, lips quivering.
‘Bloody journalists!’ he said.
‘One of them called out to Kate wanting an interview,’ announced William.
‘The nerve!’ harrumphed Charles. The church in nearby Crathie had traditionally been a photo opportunity-only venue, with journalists expected to keep their distance.
As the rest of the family sat down, the household staff brought in tea and scones.
‘Well, I shan’t let them spoil my holiday,’ declared Anne. ‘I shall simply ignore them.’
The expressions of the others suggested that this was advice they found difficult to follow.
‘They won’t go away, Gran.’ Unlike the other family members, Harry was sitting on the floor massaging Margaret’s ears as she gazed at him beatifically. ‘Unless,’ he continued, ‘you give them something.’
The Queen, like Margaret, had always had a soft spot for Harry, valuing him as a direct conduit to the younger generation. ‘What might that be?’ she asked.
He shrugged. ‘Not sure. We’d have to come up with something.’
Kate was nodding. ‘Something safe and light-hearted. Something summer-y.’
‘Like who designed your T-shirt?’ joked William.
‘And,’ she responded, ‘whether it was … Made in Britain?’ The last three words were chorused by all the younger royals, having learned, to their cost, the furore that would accompany their purchase of items that weren’t manufactured in the UK – or a Commonwealth country at least.
‘Such a pity the media insist on running page after page of drivel,’ Charles repeated his oft-made observation. ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if newspapers did more to share stories and insights that were really meaningful? Things that might help people lead more purposeful lives.’
The Queen glanced over at him, uncertainly. ‘Tricky business, persuading the media to lift their sights from terror and trivia. Every one of us has tried.’
Pushing myself up so that I was balancing on my rear end, I fixed Kate with a pleading expression. She was a soft touch when it came to scones.
There was a pause while the family glanced in my direction. Before Kate said, ‘Well, not every family member.’
‘Genius!’ congratulated Harry. Then, responding to the bafflement of the older royals, ‘We offer the media a story about the royal corgis. Videos and photos. A few words about their personalities. Then they can skedaddle for the summer, leaving us in peace.’
William raised an eyebrow. ‘Worth a try.’
‘We might even get one of the corgis to say something meaningful,’ joked Harry, trying to win his father around.
‘I’m sure Winston would have a great deal to say if he didn’t get sidetracked,’ replied Charles drolly.
Harry pulled a face, and, in a stage whisper, said, ‘Vol-au-vents!’
The family laughed.
‘You can forget Margaret,’ said Anne. ‘Given half a chance she’d leave them all bleeding at the ankles.’
At this point Her Majesty, who had yet to comment on the idea, observed, ‘It would have to be Nelson. He has always been the most diplomatic of the corgis.’
Realising that my attempt to coax a scone out of Duchess Kate was futile – she was not going to do so in front of the Queen – I dropped to the floor and made my way over to Her Majesty.
‘Perhaps you could say something meaningful on our behalf? Something about purpose?’ the Queen enquired looking directly at me.
‘After the life he’s led,’ observed Kate, ‘he could write a whole book.’
‘Splendid idea,’ the Queen replied, smiling. ‘The Queen’s Corgi! One would be most interested to read it.’
And so, in a metaphorical sense, the ball was thrown.
Mulling over the conversation in the glorious days that followed, I began to realize just how true Kate’s observation was. It was a rare week when I didn’t come nose to ankle – if not snout to groin – with the most famous people in showbiz, arts, sports and spirituality. There were few of the world’s most pre-eminent politicians, pop stars or philosophers who weren’t, at some point, ushered into the royal presence. I had sniffed them all, even peed on a few, but let’s not spoil this first chapter by bringing dog-eating despots into it.
Not only had I met a richly varied and colourful range of human beings, along with a great many bores, I had also been witness to extraordinary encounters that most people will never see. I had eavesdropped on intriguing insights from the highest-level advisers, the best of the best, with whom Her Majesty consults.
What’s more, it struck me that the never-ending flow of TV and press coverage, films and books about the royal family had one singular thing in common – they were all from a human perspective. Where was the dog’s-eye view? The under-the-table account? What people discovered about the Queen, from the perspective of her most diplomatic of Pembroke Welsh Corgis would, I had no doubt at all, prove refreshingly different.
So here we are, you and me embarking on this journey together. One filled with intriguing aromas, wagging tail stumps and something else I am supposed to remember. What was it again? Ah, yes – purpose.
What’s the point of it all, people sometimes ask? The crowns and castles. The pomp and circumstance. Why bother? Who cares? How can the royal family possibly add to the sum of human happiness – and, let’s not forget, canine, feline and other -ine happiness too?
Perhaps the answers to some of those questions will be revealed in the pages that follow.
But one thing I am sure of, my fellow subject: it is not by chance that you hold this book in your hands.
From my earliest days I was aware of a place called ‘the shed’. To begin with I had no idea where it was. But on the very rare occasions that the Grimsleys paid me any attention, ‘the shed’ was invoked. And even as a puppy only a few weeks old, I knew instinctively that it was a place where terrible things happened.
I was born into the most humble of circumstances, under the kitchen sink in a cramped terraced house in Slough. The youngest in a litter of five pups, and very much smaller than the others, I soon found myself competing for space and attention not only with my immediate brothers and sisters, who shared a sack in the carcass of what used to be a kitchen cupboard, but also with two older and sturdier litters belonging to other mothers in the house. There were over twenty of us in all.
It was not an even competition. My size counted against me, as did my right ear which, instead of standing, flopped. Desperate for the same affection the Grimsleys bestowed on the other pups, it seemed that my dysfunctional ear rendered me unloveable.
In the rough and ready chaos of discarded pizza boxes and crushed cans of Fosters beer, dirty laundry and the ever-present, pungent aroma of kipper, the house was completely given over to corgis. We were everywhere: under the kitchen bench, where cupboard doors had been removed to create kennels; nesting behind sitting room sofas; suckling and scratching under the Grimsleys’ bed.
On the rare occasion I came to the attention of Mrs Grimsley, she’d jab her cigarette towards me in distaste. ‘Still not standing,’ she’d say with a sigh, exhaling a stream of acrid smoke.
Mr Grimsley, a very large man in worn, denim overalls with watery blue eyes, would stare at me in slack-jawed silence.
‘You’re going to have to take it down the shed,’ Mrs Grimsley would instruct.
‘Give it time,’ Mr Grimsley might say. ‘Perhaps he’s a late bloomer.’
‘That’s always been your problem, Reg.’ Mrs Grimsley’s voice was brittle. ‘Too soft. Waste of Kibbles, that one.’
None of the corgis knew exactly what happened in the shed. Other dogs were said to have been taken there in the past – all of them stunted in some way. The only thing known for certain was that once a corgi went to the shed, it was never seen again.
On Saturday mornings, the Grimsleys would be transformed, Mr Grimsley appearing downstairs first, having squeezed uncomfortably into a dark suit, followed by pencil-thin Mrs Grimsley, all blonde hair and red lipstick, talking in her Kennel Club voice.
‘Are Tarquin and Annabelle in the car?’ she’d want to know. ‘In their show collars? Where’s Tudor’s pedigree?’
A lengthy and restive day indoors for all the dogs would be followed by an even-lengthier evening waiting for the Grimsleys to get home from whichever home county they had visited, usually followed by a lock-in at the local pub, The Crown. Being small and vulnerable, I usually avoided the scamper and tumble of the other corgis, only venturing far from the kitchen cupboard in the reassuring presence of my eldest brother, Jasper.
‘Hurry up, Number Five.’ He’d cock his head playfully, trying to coax me out; I was the only corgi in the house that had no name. ‘There’s a whole week’s laundry to get our teeth into!’
In the early hours of a Sunday morning, Mrs Grimsley would lurch through the front door, Mr Grimsley stumbling after her in his great, dark, tent of a suit, and Tarquin and Annabelle plodding behind, exhausted by a day trapped in cage and car.
‘Don’t you just love corgis?!’ Mrs Grimsley would slump into a chair, grabbing banknotes out of her handbag and tossing them up in the air so that they fluttered, confetti-like, all around her. ‘Eight hundred pounds! And another seven pups as good as sold. Oh, Annabelle, my little darling!’ she’d croon in a way that she never did for me. ‘What a wonder you are!’
One by one, as the older pups reached a certain age, they were taken out to meet their new owners in the nearby park. The Grimsleys avoided having buyers to their home, the front door being hard to access on account of the two Morris Minors rusting on bricks in the driveway. They had been a decaying fixture for as long as anyone knew, awaiting the day that Mr Grimsley began to restore them to classic glory.
On the rare occasion that a visitor unavoidably came to the house, I was hastily shut in the upstairs box room. ‘Ruin our reputation, it would,’ Mrs Grimsley used to declare, ‘having this one seen with its ear. We can’t having people thinking we breed bitsas.’
There could be no harsher condemnation than for a dog than to be described as a ‘bitsa’, as the Grimsleys referred to dogs of uncertain breeding – a bit of this and a bit of that.
As the weeks passed, Mrs Grimsley took more and more of the older dogs to the park, returning alone, an unused lead wrapped around one hand, and bulging wallet in the other. Then my own immediate brothers and sisters began to be sold off. The once-cramped conditions under the kitchen sink became strangely spacious, the reassuring crush of bodies less dense.
As I became more and more visible, I was the focus of the same, sinister conversation. Mrs Grimsley’s demand that I be taken to the shed became increasingly shrill. Mr Grimsley dropped all talk of me being a late bloomer.
‘I’ll see to it,’ he’d promise her, darkly.
One day I turned to Jasper and asked what Mr Grimsley meant.
‘Hard to guess, Number Five, but I wouldn’t worry about it.’ He looked away. ‘According to our mother, he’s been saying he’ll see to the two Morris Minors since the time of our great-grandparents.’
I knew Jasper was trying to be reassuring. But I could sense his disquiet.
And Mrs Grimsley wasn’t letting go. Things reached an all-time low the afternoon that she returned alone from having taken Jasper himself to the park, with the rolled-up lead in one hand and an envelope in the other. I realised what had happened but still stared foolishly at the front door as though I could somehow will my big brother back to the house. Eventually I looked up. Mrs Grimsley was staring at me with an expression of cold determination.
‘It’s no good, Reg!’ She shouted to her husband, who was coming down the stairs. ‘You’re going to have to take it down the shed.’
‘Gone on long enough.’ She was insistent. ‘Today!’
‘I’m just on my way out –’
‘Alright.’ He flapped his heavy arms in surrender. ‘Alright. When I get back from The Crown.’
‘I’ll hold you do it.’
‘I’ll see to it then.’
Returning to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, I slumped down in a state of abject misery. Even though it was hard being a stunted, unloved corgi in a house filled with bright-eyed pedigrees who were lavished with affection, I preferred staying where I was than to having to face the unknown horror at the bottom of the garden.
The Queen’s Corgi is available from bookshops in Australia, but can only be ordered online elsewhere in the world – see below for links.
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