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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 13:33 GMT
Six Forum: Royal rent payments
Six Forum: Royal Rent Payments
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  • Click here to read the transcript

    The Queen has announced that she will pay Prince and Princess Michael of Kent's rent out of her own pocket.

    Their apartment, in Kensington Palace, will cost £120,000 a year.

    It has previously been reported that the couple paid £69-a-week for their five bedroom, four reception room home.

    Buckingham Palace also announced that Princess Margaret's former home is to be opened up to the public.

    But no decision has been made on what do to with the rooms which Princess Diana occupied.

    Why has the Queen made this decision? Should the former homes of the Royal Family be open to the public?

    Royal historian Hugo Vickers answered your questions in a forum for the BBC Six O'clock News, presented by Manisha Tank.


    Manisha Tank:

    Welcome to the Six Forum. For this Six Forum we're going to be talking about the Royals and the fact that Buckingham Palace has announced that the Queen is to allow Prince and Princess and Michael of Kent to live in Kensington Palace rent free.

    In fact the Queen is going to give them the cash in order to stay there - at least for the next seven years. The money will come from her own private funds but there have been lots of questions as to whether the taxpayer is involved anywhere along the line.

    Let's get the answers to your questions and comments, your e-mails and your text messages. Joining me is Hugo Vickers, Royal historian.

    Manisha Tank:

    We're going to start with a question received from Deborah Besbie, Bristol: Why has the Queen decided to do this? Why can't Prince and Princess Michael of Kent pay their own rent?

    Hugo Vickers:

    Well fundamentally they can't afford to because they don't have any income. They've never ever been on the Civil List at all. Some of the other members of the Royal Family were on the Civil List but actually the Queen pays what would have been the Civil List contributions. So the only people who are actually on the Civil List - which means to say they'd get money from Parliament - are the Queen herself and Prince Phillip. The Queen Mother used to but of course since she died that money that money has also ceased to come. That money, of course, is not a salary, it's really to pay the expenses of their offices, travel and so forth, getting around and undertaking their Royal duties.

    Manisha Tank:

    A question now from Lauren, UK: What do the Kents actually do for us?

    Hugo Vickers:

    The Kents are engaged mainly in charity work. They raise an enormous amount of money for charity. That is one of the functions of members of the Royal Family and because it's not something which gets reported every day and because it's not particularly glamorous, we don't really hear about it. But they do actually do a very good job.

    One of the things which happened this year was that Prince Michael agreed to take part in a film which I was helping to find people for - it needed to be members of the Royal Family and I thought I was going to have to do all the research for him. But in fact not at all, he borrowed some books and when they came back, they were covered in little markers, he'd made notes etc. and he required no fee at all and he was extremely good. So he is a very co-operative person and he does a good job but it's all behind the scenes.

    Manisha Tank:

    Les, UK citizen in USA: Given that the Queen surrendered the income from Crown Estates in exchange for Civil List payments and Grants In Aid, why should "rent" for the royals living in Kensington Palace become an issue at all?

    Hugo Vickers:

    It's a good point. The Queen gives an enormous amount of money to the nation from the Crown Estates. The Crown Estates, like everything else, are now extremely valuable and they're very well run, so it's a very substantial sum each year. But I think it's more a question of popular perception.

    Sir Michael Peat, when he was keeper of the Privy Purse, did actually make the Royal finances very, very available to everybody. So you can literally look and see where all the money goes - much more so than government departments. So whereas it's not absolutely essential that the Queen should do this, it is something that she has voluntarily agreed to do.

    Manisha Tank:

    But still there's a great deal of suspicion amongst the public as to exactly how much money Royals make and minor Royals make. On that note, we have a couple of questions.

    Brendan O'Flaherty, London asks: Why does it seem that the Royal Family, particularly the lesser Royals are sponging off the state?

    James, UK: These people have a lot of money, inherited or otherwise. Why should we pay tax so they can live in luxury while the rest of the country struggles to find a home?

    Hugo Vickers:

    I think it is a miscommunication here. They do all work very hard. The argument for them living in Kensington Palace, which to some extent, is now diminishing, is because they're going to open Princess Margaret's apartment as was announced today. But in a way they all need security as well and if you have them living in Kensington Palace - Kensington Palace is a mass of different apartments - you can have them all secured under one police ring. Whereas if you chuck them all out of Kensington Palace, then they have to be provided with other places to live and then they have to be provided with police protection and that's all very expensive.

    But actually they are hard working and the reason that members of the Royal Family do their work is because the Queen gets an enormous number of invitations to do things and she simply hasn't got time to do all the things that's she's asked to do. So the so-called minor members of the Royal Family take on essentially the most boring things. I hate to say this - but opening hospitals and laying foundation stones and things like this and raising money for charity. Most of their activities are recorded in the Court Circular if people actually want to read what they do - though not actually Prince and Princess Michael who's activities are not recorded in the Court Circular.

    Manisha Tank:

    I know that you've been to Kensington Palace and you have a very good idea of the apartments and what they look like. Myself and great number of the population seem to believe that this is a huge apartment that we're talking about that the Kents live in.

    Hugo Vickers:

    That's right because every time Kensington Palace is shown on the news, they show the façade of the State apartments. The State apartments are all open to the public which occupy an enormous part of Kensington Palace. Where Prince and Princess Michael live, is in a little attached house at the back, which used to be occupied by the private secretary of Princess Mariner.

    So in fact, they've moved as members of the Royal Family into what was at one time a private secretary's house. It's not a large house and the rooms are not particularly big. But the great thing about Kensington Palace is that you can make out of it any number of apartments and sometimes they unlock a door here or lock a door there and you can make an extra wing etc. But their house is a relatively small house.

    Manisha Tank:

    Given that you've said all of that, I'm going to ask you think like an estate agent just for a moment. Ian Burton has written in from London: Will the rental amount be decided by an independent estate agent and re-evaluated yearly? How did they come up with the figure?

    Hugo Vickers:

    I don't know how they came up with the figure but I'm quite certain it will not be re-evaluated by an estate agent. It would be impossible to put a proper value on it. First of all you can't just rent it out to anybody because as I say there is a very strong security issue here. This is part of the Royal palaces - there are other members of the Royal Family living there. Where they live is not accessible to the general public. So there's only relatively few people who can live in this particular house.

    The Royal Family do have a lot of property - they have a lot of property at Windsor - they have a lot of grace and favour houses at Hampton Court etc and in Kensington Palace they have these rather special ones with some of them occupied by members of the Royal Family and some occupied by courtiers and other officials.

    No is the answer to the first part of the question. But I think £120,000 from the Queen's own pocket is actually pretty generous. I dare say that the same house, if it wasn't in the security cordon, would command more and of course they'd be competition. But there is no competition and that's the figure they've decided on.

    Manisha Tank:

    Rhianna, Texan in UK: Will Princess Margaret's former living home be open on the same schedule as Buckingham Palace - that is during the summer months only?

    Hugo Vickers:

    No, I suspect it will be open all the year round. The reason that Buckingham Palace is only open in the summer is because it is actually a working office and the only time it can actually be opened is when the Queen is not there and the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace to go to Scotland round about the end of July and she doesn't return until round about the middle of October. That's why Buckingham Palace is open for that limited period. But that wouldn't apply to Kensington Palace at all - indeed the state apartments of Kensington Palace are open on most working days.

    Manisha Tank:

    Do you know what will happen to the Diana apartment?

    Hugo Vickers:

    The problem about the Diana apartment is again one of public perception. If it's used for something, it's going to offend a lot of people because anything to do with Diana, Princess of Wales, has a sort of shrine-like quality.

    I remember looking in through the door - it's very decrepit now - it just an empty apartment, you just see the staircase and it's rather depressing. But no, I suspect they probably won't make a decision about that. Perhaps they should but it's still a little bit soon maybe.

    Manisha Tank:

    Neil Ward in Lincolnshire asks: Will many other so-called minor Royals be so forthcoming about their rent arrangements?

    Hugo Vickers:

    I feel great sympathy for the minor Royals who've worked very, very hard throughout their lives and the Duke and Duchess of Kent had quite a good apartment at St. James's Palace. They now live in a very small house which is not even part of the main Palace - it's like a cottage which is in the grounds of Kensington Palace. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke's mother, who's going to be 101 years old on Christmas Day - they live in quite a large apartment.

    But the point about the so-called minor Royals is that they are, if you like, the life peers of the Royal Family. They do not reinvent themselves - their children will not live in those apartments and their children will not undertake Royal duties. So as they die and as they retire, in a sense, they disappear. Eventually we will have a very, very small Royal family which will consist of Prince Charles, when he's King and his two sons, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, the Princess Royal and possibly the two daughters of Prince Andrew. They'd undertake Royal duties, so it will be a very small Royal Family.

    Manisha Tank:

    While you've started looking to the future there and while we've been on air, our News Online viewers who've been able to vote in our Online poll - 56% of you say that you don't think the Royal Family are good value for money. Obviously this is not a scientific survey that we do. But Hugo is this a fair assessment?

    Hugo Vickers:

    No, it certainly isn't and we'd like to know what they would think if they had an expensive head of state who had to be elected and then pensioned off. The Royal Family are actually not paid at all. This may come as a surprise but they are not paid at all. The Civil List payment for the Queen and Prince Phillip goes towards the expenses of running their office and also the Prime Minister obviously has quite a lot of expenses and so do ambassadors and so does every public official in this country who is in a public office of any kind - it costs quite a lot of money.

    We don't have time unfortunately to go through all the figures at great length but actually when you balance what the Royal Family cost - they cost a certain amount in the course of giving them security but so would a president. As opposed to what they bring into this country in revenue and the amount of money they raise for charity, I think you'd find on balance they're actually extremely good value. We're very, very lucky to have a head of state like the Queen. There are lot of countries who would have like to have had for 50 years a head of state like out present Queen.

    Manisha Tank:

    Sam, Ely: Is the Royal Family slowly and quietly dismantling itself?

    Hugo Vickers:

    As I said, I think some of the other members of the Royal Family as they grow older, they will not be reinvented, as it were, so we will end up with a smaller Royal Family. So it's not dismantling itself as such but in the process of time, that what will happen - that's the rules of the Royal house. There's no reason to axe all these minor members of the Royal Family, they will disappear in the fullness of time having actually served this country very well and with very little thanks.

    Manisha Tank:

    We'll have to end there. Hugo Vickers, Royal historian, thank you.

  • See also:

    18 Dec 02 | UK
    30 Jun 02 | Politics
    12 Jun 02 | Politics
    13 Jun 02 | Politics
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