An Architect Turned Duke Is Cousin Lilibet's Unstuffy Royal Stand-in
This week the young duke is away again, and the assignment is particularly ambitious. He begins an 18-day visit to Australia that will take the royal presence to a horse race in Tasmania, an oil rig at Longford, a surf carnival at Coogee Beach and a performance of The Merry Widow in Sydney.
Richard finds himself Down Under by accident of birth and a family tragedy. He is ninth in line to the throne, gamely heading up British royalty's second string. "My chances of becoming king are infinitesimal," he admits. Would he have it otherwise? Bristles His Royal Highness: "Of course not."
It is a hereditary role that Richard, as a second son, grew up thinking he would never have to fill. His brother William, older by two years, was groomed to succeed to the dukedom, while Richard veered toward books, building tree houses and tinkering with machinery. Interested in architecture, he went to Cambridge, where students called him "Proggie" (an acronym from Prince Richard of Gloucester).
Soon the British press was noting his motorcycle mania and sophomoric behavior. In 1965 he and some friends attended a fancy dress ball at an Austrian ski resort as a "Bras Band"—each wearing a borrowed bra. He was back in the headlines that year when he met and fell in love with a commoner, Birgitte Van Deurs, daughter of a Danish lawyer. "It was fairly obvious—there was no other person," says his mother, Princess Alice, who approved the match (as she strenuously did not Prince William's pursuit of a twice-divorced older woman).
Richard and Birgitte were married in 1972, only a few weeks before his brother was killed in a private plane crash. Two years later, upon his father's death, Richard Alexander Walter George became Duke. Since then, although he is the first member of the British royal family in memory to qualify as an architect, or for any other profession for that matter, Gloucester has had to shelve his career to take on the royal chores.
"I sometimes wonder, 'Whatever am I doing it for, all these apparently contrived events?' " he admits, but adds, "It sounds almost absurdly dramatic, but one reason is national unity. People in places like Ipswich are entitled to recognition for their achievements."
Not that being stand-in for the Queen is all tea and trumpets. "When I feel emotionally involved, like about the role of the designer in society, and say what I feel, people get upset," he notes. "Prince Phillip has the same problem. Royalty must be professional ignoramuses—and it's a shame. Your praise is devalued unless you're allowed to blow out an occasional raspberry."
Being royal has its perks, however, including a 35-room, rent-free London apartment next to Princess Margaret's in Kensington Palace. The duke receives a tax-exempt $88,000 allowance from the Queen's private purse, but has to ante up about $6,000 to cover his expenses.
He and his family usually spend weekends at Barnwell Manor, 80 miles north of London. It is a 40-room house opposite a ruined 11th-century castle on 2,500 acres. There the duke pulls on his Wellingtons and becomes a working farmer, even driving the tractor at harvest time.
But weekends at Barnwell must often give way to royal chores. "If you are invited by Buckingham Palace to do something on behalf of the Queen," an aide observes, "it is an instruction. All other engagements are canceled." Richard doesn't mind. "If I go into a large room and everyone claps," he says, "it's because I'm a close relative of the Queen. That, of course, is the reason I'm there."
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