The Son of Princess Meg Is the Royal Family's First Cabinet Maker
05/13/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
He is 10th in line to the British throne, nephew of the Queen, first cousin of Prince Charles, only son of Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon. He is variously known as Viscount or Lord Linley and David Albert Charles Armstrong-Jones. Yet unlike some big winners of the biological sweepstakes, this is a man who works. The young viscount is a furniture maker, a man for whom the throne is just another chair. His place in the royal succession means "nothing" to him. "I could be 10-millionth," he says. "There's no possible way I could succeed." Instead of longing to be king, David says, "My mind and heart are in the workshop."
While the Prince of Wales awaits his eventual coronation, David works in a crafts co-op in Surrey, chiseling a niche for himself as a craftsman. Working mainly with sycamore, colored veneers, plywood and acrylic plastic, he specializes in coffee tables, dining room sets, folding desks and chairs, fashioning 25 to 30 one-of-a-kind custom-designed pieces each year. Among his clients are Charles and Diana, who own a Linley sycamore dining table. Though the viscount won't say what he charges, one of his boardroom tables is said to have sold for £10,000 (about $14,650).
The 23-year-old lord has kept his hands busy since he was a boy. "I was always fiddling with cars, go-carts and motorbikes," says Linley. During his teenage years at Bedales' boarding school, he recalls, "I spent most of my time in the woodwork department." His parents never objected. In fact, he says, they told him to "go for it."
After spending two further years at Parnham House, a trade school where he studied woodworking, Linley and several friends, including Henry Slack, 22, his best friend since they met at 13, banded together in 1982 to form a crafts co-op in the small Surrey town of Dorking. Last spring they moved operations to the picture-book village of Betchworth, where they opened for business in a joinery dubbed "White-House Workshop." There David says he enjoys the entire woodworking process, from "finding the right log" to arguing with clients over the fine points.
"The hardest bit is the design," he explains. "To come up with a new idea each time and not to be churning out the same old stuff." Going into his sales pitch, he adds, "The reason people come to us is that they get individual service they can't find in a normal furniture store. We are trying to make people's lives more pleasurable by giving them beautiful furniture."
Linley's artistic bent is in his genes. His mother always expressed more interest in things cultural than her sister, the Queen; his father, Lord Snowdon, is recognized as one of the world's top photographers. The viscount, born in November 1961, was early dubbed "Little Lord Mischief" by the British tabloids. He was first schooled at Buckingham Palace with his cousin Prince Andrew, nearly two years his senior. Linley became a controversial figure in the press, which called him "Royal Romeo" for his amorous adventures with a "harem of willing girlfriends" and a "royal dropout" for his disdain for the trappings of his birthright. Of his Fleet Street image, David insists, "It doesn't have any effect on me. They write absolute rubbish. Everyone knows that."
While retaining a pad in Mum's home at Kensington Palace, David keeps his other digs secret. His regular girlfriend is 22-year-old Susannah Constantine, a nursery school teacher. But Linley says he has no plans for marriage, adding, "I'm quite happy as I am."
At the Betchworth (Surrey) White-House, informality extends to the kitchen, where Lord Linley takes his turn preparing tea for his mates. The viscount's exalted station is taken in stride, but never forgotten. When the craftsmen held a public opening last summer, Princess Margaret (divorced since 1978) was on hand, as was Lord Snowdon and his second wife, Lucy. Linley declares he is "very privileged and very grateful for all the advantages I've had" and he acknowledges that he was helped by "the encouragement of my father and mother." But he is quick to add that "I really did it off my own bat."
Why would a dynamic young man who has everything spend his time breathing sawdust and building calluses? Because, says Linley, "I just wanted to lead my own life, to do something creative." His domain, he says, will always be on the drawing table.