Friendship and Love: RIP Camilla

I first met Geordie over twenty years ago and thus began to spend some time at Highclere. Over time I began to meet a few girlfriends who lived near Highclere. Husbands are all very well but girlfriends are there to help you up when you are down and to sit down beside you if you don’t want to get up.

I have also ended up building much of my working life with girlfriends. As the Castle comes alive in the morning, we bustle into the tearooms and sit down to chat or head back to the gift shop to sort the day out. Camilla was normally late, rounding the corners and hurtling over the speed bumps before arriving in the gift shop. A mum with three heavenly, smiling and hardworking sons – young men now – whom she adored, Highclere was where she could be found weekdays, often weekends and we had lunch together most days. She was never keen on vegetables or salad but I used to put some on her plate and she would laugh and help herself to some chicken.

Years ago she had asked me for a reference – she was going to apply for a job in a clothes shop in a local town. I said I would really prefer not to do that, because she rarely answered the phone and couldn’t even turn on a computer. I would, however, love her to work with us at Highclere. We would be much nearer and much more fun. Camilla was renowned for her illegible writing and an inability to count, and I said to Sally she would be a perfect fit for the gift shop! She also liked her cigarette breaks with a book out at the back by an old mounting block. Sally, who runs the gift shop, probably saw more of Camilla than she did of her husband, Alex. Supper with Sally, trips to the NEC, wrapping and packing, helping me sign books, ever smiling with a great repartee in one liners, she was part of our family and always here, at every event, always ready to help and smiling. We would be often laughing til we cried. Sally is bereft.

Most importantly, Camilla was master of the local hunt for many years. So when “Downton Abbey” wanted to organise a hunt scene, I put them in touch and Camilla was most excited. Two weeks later I rang her to see how she was doing and how I could help. She muttered they changed their mind twice a day and there were many more days to go. She was an outstanding rider and loved her horses and her dogs. She and I were cantering at some speed together and her horse (she was riding Reggie, a retired elegant chaser I looked after) shied really badly at a pheasant which flew out from a left field bank.  I could see lots of  air between Camilla and the horse but she said she only stayed on because she heard my shrieks of laughter at the sight.

She is part of an old, local family and had a deep love of the countryside and its community. She was, as Winnie the Pooh says  “a friend {which} is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the best things you can be.” Love for her reaches far and wide.

Life was not always easy but she was always brave and stronger even than she knew she was.  She loved her sons and they loved her to bits. They have all come here for summer concerts, for picnics and fireworks, swimming in the lake, for New Year, for shoots and dinners ever since they were little and now they are all far taller than I. I hope they will still come. However, I didn’t realise until this week that now our lunches would just be memories and that we all cannot have the same fun again, because the saddest thing for her sons and all her many girlfriends, for all who loved her so much, is that she has died. So this is a tribute to a lovely woman and the saddest adage that you only realise how much you loved someone when you have lost them. I will miss her beyond measure.