Friday, 28 August 2009

They call it Althorp House, but you decide

Yesterday, a friend and I paid a visit to Althorp House, a 14,000-acre estate about seven miles from a town called Northampton. Perhaps it's just the modesty of the aristocracy, calling it a house. My house doesn't have 15 bedrooms. If it rings a bell, it's the ancestral home of the Spencer family, as in Lady Diana Spencer, later Princess Diana. She's buried behind the home, on an island in a small lake called "The Round Oval."

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, as she was such a public figure with an almost cult-like following. My worst fear would be that there would be bags of Princess Diana fudge in the gift shop, or something of equally less tact. Not to say that I am a stranger to fudge procured from stately home gift shops, but there's a line to be drawn.

No worries about decorum, as it turned out. The gift shop was remarkably restrained, with very few items featuring Diana. I don't recall seeing her depicted on any merchandise, in fact. The most touristy item on offer was an Althorp tea towel, which I resisted adding to my collection.

The stables have been converted to a small museum about Diana's life and times. There's a lovely drawing on display by John Singer Sargent of Diana's grandmother, and the striking resemblance is chilling. There's lots of family snapshots, personal letters, and most interestingly, Charles Spencer's draft of the speech he delivered at Diana's funeral. The line where he thanks Dodi Fayed for making the last weeks of Diana's life happy is noticeably struck out with black pen. Interesting...

The house itself is a marvel, even more so now that I know it rents out for private parties, events, and weddings. I pity the staff who have to dust their entire collection, and vacuuming must be an unmitigated nightmare. That could be my eternal punishment, in fact: being handed a mop and a bucket and being locked in a stately home for all eternity. Sarte got hell all wrong -- hell is other people's housework. Or my own, for that matter.

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