Pictures of ballerinas hung on the walls, a reminder of her childhood passion. "I dreamed of becoming a ballerina," she said, "but I was too tall." She liked to watch the English National Ballet at rehearsal, yearning to be among the dancers, and two pairs of pink satin pointe shoes hung by their ribbons from a hook on the door that led to the landing. In that room, there were signs of her sense of humour. Stickers saying 'I Like Di' and 'CAUTION: Princess on board' were plastered on to the marble fireplace. In one corner of the room, between the window and the Herend china collection, hung two of her favourite watercolours in gold frames, one of a kingfisher, which had been a wedding present, the other of William as a cheeky infant, in a blue and white striped jumper. A giant cuddly hippo slumped in front of the desk, between the two sofas where she sat, legs curled beneath her, to watch black-and-white movies, the news, Brookside, Blind Date, EastEnders and Casualty.
That area in front of the sofas was used for dress-fittings when Jacques Azagury and Catherine Walker visited to oversee operations. The boss would kick off her shoes and stand on a small stool as fitters pinned a hem or took a measurement. "Isn't it beautiful? Isn't Jacques clever?" I remember her saying once, as she twirled on that stool. Or "What do you think of this colour?" she'd ask.
She spent an inordinate amount of time at her desk, talking on the telephone, penning an endless stream of thank-you notes, signing official correspondence, writing letters to friends, putting down her thoughts on paper. She kept her vocabulary list propped against a letter rack and used it as a quick reference for words she found hard to spell, such as 'conscientiously' and 'infinitely'. Words, by her own admission, were not her strong point. She'd sit at that desk and write postcards or short notes to William and Harry, sometimes two a day. Frequently they'd say no more than 'Can't wait to hug you!' and she always sent them 'huge kisses and enormous hugs'. A silver ink stand was positioned in front of that list: a three-sided ornamental tray with a crystal pot as an inkwell at its centre, and a grooved channel for her to lay down the black fountain pen she used for all correspondence.
A bottle of blue-black Quink was kept to hand near the blue leather blotter – always filled with pink paper, always covered with dark splodges. It was here especially that the boss surrounded herself with William and Harry, in little framed snapshots to right and left on her desk. A tiny, open locket lay on the ink stand, with thumbnail photos of her boys. It had been a gift from the readers of Woman's Own magazine, which she flicked through for its real-life stories about women. She had once hosted its annual 'Children of Courage Awards' and the locket had been presented to her as a memento. She treasured it.