THE PRINCESS AND THE GAMEKEEPER
The Rushall Horse Trials began in the 1970s. Locals called it the Rough Horse Trials, because they were rough. Horses and riders went over obstacles, under obstacles, through obstacles (rivers and ponds) over very rough ground in forests and fields. Usually wet and muddy. Riders fell off, or were knocked off when they didn’t duck low enough. Riderless horses gaily galloped around the fields. And it happened around our cottage. The cottage sat slap bang in the middle of the course. One year the event was televised; my family sat indoors and got a kick out of seeing their white cottage on the television.
There was some discussion of the availability of Porta Potties the first year. The event coordinators didn’t think they could get them to the event in time. This could be embarrassing, as Princess Anne was competing, as she did every year thereafter. No doubt the princess would also be embarrassed if she got the urge, and nowhere to go. She wouldn’t have taken kindly to squatting behind a tree. She might have to use the toilet in the cottage.
In England, if the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh or the Prince of Wales patronize an establishment, be it a department store, a butcher’s shop, a saddler, anything in fact, the proprietor may be awarded the Royal Warrant, a picture of the Royal coat of arms with the legend: By Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. “Well,” Mum said, “if Princess Anne has to use our loo, I’m going to put a sign over the door: By Appointment to Her Royal Highness Princess Anne.”
“Is she uses the loo,” I joked, “she’ll have to wash her hands in the kitchen. You can have the towel framed and hang it on the wall with a little sign: Used by Princess Anne when she was taken short.”
One evening, Dad got a call from his boss, local land owner Barry Wookey. A man and a woman were in Black Knoll, a small wood on his property. Not only is the land private, they were letting their dogs run all over the place, no doubt scaring the wildlife. It was bad enough some idiots were trespassers on his property, their dogs could kill or scare away the pheasants. People paid good money to hunt those pheasants, so pheasants had to be available for them to shoot. So off Dad went, done up in his gamekeeper regalia, shotgun over his arm. He found the couple easily enough.
He got no closer than 20 feet when four large men wearing suits appeared out of nowhere and surrounded him. And Dad recognized the couple.
He realized he was in something of a predicament. Not only had he approached Princess Anne and her (then) fiancé Captain Mark Philips, he did so with a loaded weapon. Granted, he carried the shotgun broken open over his arm, but it was loaded.
He explained to the men. One of them went to the Princess and explained to her. She beckoned Dad to join her.
Dad didn’t read her the riot act, as he would another trespasser. He said he was sure Barry wouldn’t object to her taking a walk in Black Knoll, but she must put her dogs on leashes. The dogs were leashed, and Dad and the princess had a nice little chat about the horse trials and country matters.
The trials made international news in 1975 when Princess Anne fell off her horse and into the river. Wet and muddy, she smiled, remounted and finished the course.
Princess Anne remembered Dad at subsequent horse trials. She took the time to stop and chat if she saw him. People who love the countryside, horses, dogs, and the rural life always have something in common, be they a princess, or a gamekeeper.
Thinking of you on Father’s Day, Dad.