Saturday, May 14, 2011

At home with... Her Royal Pie-ness: A taste of Kate's life in Anglesey

By Jan Moir

The only places where the Duchess of Cambridge is seen regularly all over Anglesey is inside the island's supermarkets, such as the Menai branch of Waitrose where she was photographed happily pushing a trolley

Around the same time that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge alight from their private jet and step on to the white sands of one of the 100 islands of the Seychelles, my gumboots crunch on to the white cliffs of Anglesey. Royal tour, here I come — even if I have to design the route myself.

This far-flung and rain-lashed island, off the north coast of Wales, has been home to the royal couple for more than a year.

Yet very little is known about their lives here, where Prince William is stationed at the RAF Valley base on the south-west coast of the island as a search and rescue helicopter pilot.

In the nearby town of Rhosneigr, local pleasure in this remarkable fact is depicted in a poster staked into a plot of land near the base. ‘If You Need Rescuing On Anglesey, We Do It By Royalty,’ it boasts.

And they are right to be so proud. Drift too far from shore on your li-lo in these parts, and there is a very real chance that an actual prince will come clattering overhead to your rescue, adding a surreal, fairytale element to what is serious and dangerous work.

The royal couple live quietly in a large but isolated farmhouse, where dutiful Kate runs baths to welcome William home from his 24-hour shifts.

According to one local butcher, she also likes to bake him meat pies, bubbling with her own home-made gravy, cooked from scratch. Well, I say. I never had the new Duchess down as a pastry crimper and pie maker.

‘Me neither,’ said the butcher. ‘But she is a good shopper, she knows what she is doing. She was in here after the wedding and she bought some meat and 82p of lamb’s liver to make the pie gravy. I said: ‘Are you sure you can afford that?’ And she said: “I can now.” ’

Half a world away, as the newlyweds settle into their £4,000-a-night private villa, complete with butler and yoga pavilion, my tour begins as I head down a coastal path towards the tiny beach at Rhoscolyn, into the teeth of a bone-shaking wind and lightly driving rain.

Anglesey is so bracing! How can Wills and Kate bear to be away? Who needs frondy palms and the balmy pamper of the Indian Ocean when you’ve got the grey squall of the Irish Sea at your elbow and blue hills of Snowdonia on the horizon? Well, sometimes on the horizon, at any rate.

As the local saying goes; if you can see the mountains, it’s about to rain, if you can’t see them, it’s raining.

By the time William and Kate are uncorking the honeymoon champagne, I am popping the cap on my Thermos of tea and unwrapping some cheese sandwiches.
Do Wills and Kate do this, too, I wonder?

Certainly, Rhoscolyn was one of the named tables at their Buckingham Palace dinner reception following the wedding. The couple had designated tables after places that were important to them, such as St Andrews, Bucklebury and Tetbury. Rhoscolyn clearly has some romantic resonance for William and Kate, but what could it be?
Pondering this, I hardly notice the black labrador that gallops across the sand towards my picnic, then snaffles all the sandwiches before anyone can stop him. To add insult to injury, he takes a slurp from my mug of tea as well.

Ha! Isn’t this the very essence of the British seaside experience; rain and discomfort, closely followed by calamity? Look at what you are missing back home, Wills and Kate!

On a hill behind the beach sits the White Eagle pub, a favourite haunt of the royal couple. The large, refurbished site is owned by the Timpson family of Leeds, the famous shoe shop dynasty who have a holiday home nearby. With its sun terrace and daily changing menus, the Eagle is also frequented by RAF officers and has enjoyed a burst of popularity following some much-publicised royal patronage.

Indeed, on the day of my visit, the kitchen has already run out of chunky chips and the chef has taken time out to be photographed by a newspaper.

Now this is not exactly Wills & Kate mania, but such is the potency of their public appeal at the moment that even serving the couple dinner seems to be a passport to a kind of fame. However, once I’d read the details of the chef’s lamb special — cooked with blue cheese and raspberry sauce — I decided his photo should end up on a police poster rather than in a newspaper. Wanted — For Crimes Against Welsh Lamb.

Jan Moir has a cuppa on Rhoscolyn beach. Who needs frondy palms of the Indian Ocean when you've got the grey squall of the Irish Sea at your elbow and blue hills of Snowdonia on the horizon?

‘Oh, we’ve had the press and TV crews in here every day since the Royal Wedding,’ a friendly member of staff tells me.

‘It’s crazy really. I mean, with all this attention, I doubt that William and Catherine will ever come back again.’

At these prices, I wouldn’t be surprised. £10 for a plate of ham broth! It’s probably cheaper to eat in the Seychelles.

Just a few miles north of here lies Trearddur Bay, where the royal couple launched the Hereford Endeavour lifeboat at the local RNLI station last February. This lovely spot, popular as a retirement haven, will go down in royal history as the place where the Duchess of Cambridge performed her first-ever official engagement.

Here, in what looked like a gale force nine wind that turned her hair into a Jedward-style beehive, Kate Middleton launched her own royal career as well as that of the lifeboat.

Her nervous but sincere smiles had the stamp of someone who is going to go the distance. And Mr Aubrey Diggle, the local RNLI Lifeboat Operations manager, reports that there was a surge of attention following the event.

‘We’ve had more interest from local groups who want to visit the station and have a look around. It raised our profile that way,’ he says.

Well, everything helps. Today, the polls close on a vote to determine which local landmarks will make it on to a special new Isle of Anglesey Edition of the Monopoly board game — just one of the ways the island has been put on the map since William and Kate made this place their home.

And it says something about the couple that they have chosen to live tucked away on this island, as quietly as possible. They have a mutual lack of airs and graces that does them credit. And the fact that they never stand on ceremony nor ask for special favours has made them very popular here.

‘Oh, people here really like them. They adore them. They are such a nice, normal couple, everyone will tell you that,’ one local told me.

‘They can come and go as they please. William bombs around on his Ducatti motorbike, Kate goes to the shops. Nobody bothers them, everyone is so pleased they are here. It’s not like when Prince Charles went to South Wales and nobody liked him there. This is an entirely different situation.’

The royal couple live quietly in a large but isolated farmhouse, where dutiful Catherine runs baths to welcome William home from his 24-hour shifts

Yet while William has the excitement and routine of his RAF work to keep him busy, what is life like on Anglesey for Kate? Surely it must be lonely in their remote farmhouse? After all, there are only so many pies you can make in a week, no matter how dizzy with newlywed love you might be.

Look around, and there are few traces of her anywhere. There is much to do for the active sportswoman on the island, yet there have been no glimpses of the Duchess windsurfing or parasailing on any of the beaches. If she walks or jogs, she does it well out of sight, with only her protection officers for company.

Apparently the farmhouse is equipped with a gym and treadmills, and it is kind of sad to think of her trotting alone inside, like a battery hen on manoeuvres.

Elsewhere, she is never seen tending to her luxurious locks in the local hair salons, such as Curly Tops in Valley, Head First in Llannerch-y-Med, Trimmers in Llangefni or the succinctly named Hair in downtown Bangor, on the mainland.

There is excellent bird-watching all over Anglesey, plus kick boxing and belly dancing classes in most major towns — but so far, it’s been a royal no-show.

In the yachty haven of Beaumaris on the south-east of the island, the Duchess is yet to be seen perusing the racks of sherbet-coloured fleeces in the local shops. Yet here, where the local baker sold out of gingerbread crowns — complete with Jelly Tot jewels — and Union Jack cupcakes on the day of the Royal Wedding, William and Kate do sometimes eat at the Bull’s Head in the main street.

This is a handsome pub with an award-winning brasserie selling nan bread pizzas and Thai spiced fish. Sadly, my lunchtime visit there was curtailed by the traditional British catering welcome, always delivered with a jaunty lack of regret. ‘Sorry. The kitchen closes at two.’

One suspects these carefree times on Anglesey may turn out to be some of the happiest days of their lives

Strangely enough, the only places where the Duchess is seen regularly all over Anglesey is inside the island’s supermarkets. Shortly after her wedding, she was photographed happily pushing a trolley in the Menai branch of Waitrose, which has a big stand of Welsh specialities just by the door.

‘She’s in here all the time. She’s been shopping here for over a year. She walks up and down the aisles and queues up to pay and nobody bothers her,’ a Waitrose worker said.

For security reasons — or perhaps for variety, who knows? — the Duchess actually shops all over; in the branches of Spar and Morrison’s at Holyhead, in the other Waitrose in Bangor. The excitement never ends.

She and William were once caught on security cameras buying pizza and frozen chips at the branch of Spar at the Valley crossroads; though to be fair, there’s not much of a selection in there.

For all that, one suspects these carefree times on Anglesey may turn out to be some of the happiest days of their lives. The couple are free to do as they please; she can skip about in her jeans and ballet flats, he can have a quiet pint with his RAF colleagues in the discreet local pubs. The ordeal and tribulations of one day being King and Queen seem a long way off.

Now, Anglesey may lack the glamour of London or Highgrove, but it is beautiful. The sea is everywhere and always different. Big windsurfer waves roll in at Rhosneigr, powerful whitecaps crash against the cliffs at South Stack, far below the puffin nests and the wheeling guillemots. And when the sun does come out, it blesses the area with luminous light, casting shadows on beaches edged with dogrose and the reed-fringed wetlands long into the evening.

On nights like this, Prince William drives home to his bride through sunken lanes where the hedgerows flutter with hawthorn and elderflower blooms, far away from the pressures of the world that await him.

No wonder they love it here. So come home soon, Wills and Kate. It’s all happening here! In the past few days alone, for example, the local papers have been buzzing with news.

Andrea Jones from the town of Bethesda claims to have seen the image of Jesus on her boyfriend’s garden shovel.

‘Just about everyone who has seen it has said, oh my God,’ she told the Bangor & Anglesey Mail.

Cherry plum tomatoes are on special offer at Lidl, Waitrose have got a fresh delivery of new spring vegetables.

Former weathergirl Sian Lloyd is coming up to perform an opening ceremony, and the first female Archdruid has just been crowned and installed as the new head of the Anglesey Gorsedd of Bards.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.



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