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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
My quest: How rich are the Royals?

By Adrian Chiles

I've spent the past six months making a programme with an absolutely obvious conclusion: how rich are the Royals? The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is - wait for it - very rich indeed. Surprised? No, nor me. So, why did we bother asking?

Prince Philip and Queen
Should transactions be in the public domain?
Funnily enough that was the question implicit in the tone of the Palace officials we dealt with: why are you bothering? That, and what business is it of yours how rich the Royals are?

Well, surely it is all of our business how rich the royals are. I'm no expert on constitutional matters but my understanding is that it boils down to this: the Royals are only royal because we, the electorate, allow it to be so. In which case we surely have a right to know how much they are worth?

Kevin Cahill, author of Who Owns Britain, says there is a constitutional issue here: the Royal Family are kept in check by Parliament as long as Parliament controls the purse strings with the civil list. But if the Royals are independently wealthy, as they most certainly are, then Parliament's control is weakened.

But I would argue it doesn't matter if you embrace or reject the monarchy, it should be absolutely transparent how much money they are given and how much they have. They say there is all the transparency you could want in the civil list. And those fabulous sources of personal income for the Queen and Prince Charles, the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall respectively, obviously file accounts.

But the civil list is set on the basis of need and it's impossible to assess how much they actually need if you don't know how much they have.

Jubilee crowd
Unifying pomp and circumstance
And, trust me, it's impossible to find how much they have because they're just not telling.

The most obvious example is the Queen's share portfolio. It could be worth nothing. It could be worth billions. But we will never know because she holds shares anonymously in a company called the Bank of England Nominees - the logic being that it could destabilise the market if we knew what the Queen was buying and selling.

However, if the chairman of BT sells off all his personal shares in the company that will certainly affect sentiment. And his transactions, like yours and mine, would almost certainly have to be in the public domain.

Some of the arguments we had with the Palace over the making of this programme have been positively Pythonesque. Long and hard we've bickered over what the Royals own and what they don't.

Take Windsor Castle. Go on, take it, because it's actually yours. Or ours. They're just keeping it on our behalf you see. They don't actually own it. So whatever it's worth we've not included it in our grand total. Fine. And no-one expects to go marching over the drawbridge to stake their claim to a bit of Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle: Picture courtesy of FreeFoto.com
Windsor Castle: Ours but don't try getting in
But if it's ours then why should we have to apply for permission to film a tiny bit of Royal Millions on the Long Walk, the park leading to the castle? Permission was denied, incidentally. So I couldn't film a piece explaining that this was actually our land because we had been told we couldn't film on our land.

Walter Bagehot advised the monarch not to "let the light in". But the light, like the tide for King Canute, is coming in whether they like it or not.

Royal Millions is broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday 5 May at 2235 BST.

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