I refer to your photograph of Princess Diana in your ‘Memory Lane’ section last week, and the reported interest of Charles and Diana in buying Belton House.
I was a partner of Escritt & Barrell at the time. We were the managing agents for the Belton Estate, and one of the joint selling agents when it was sold.
I can explode the myth that Charles and Diana made an offer to buy Belton House. They did not. It was certainly reported in the gossip columns of a national newspaper that they had, but to the best of my knowledge they never had the slightest interest in the property. The local chief of police asked me at the time why, if the royal couple were intending to buy Belton House, he knew nothing about it. I told him he had answered his own question.
We found out later what had given rise to the myth. Our London-based joint selling agents prepared a lavish sale brochure for the house and estate, and hired a helicopter from which to take aerial photographs. The partner of the national firm decided to ‘hitch a ride’ on this for the experience, and climbed aboard on the cricket ground in front of the house.
When the helicopter returned, some eagle-eyed person spotted, from a distance, a youngish man, with dark hair, a receding hairline, and dressed in a dark suit, getting out. He was sure it was Prince Charles, and phoned the aforesaid gossip columnist to tell him that the Prince had just viewed Belton House – the myth was born.
The national newspaper ‘milked’ the story for several months by returning to it frequently with another ‘exclusive’ snippet. When the story no longer had any credence the newspaper announced that the royal couple had ‘changed their mind’ about the purchase of Belton House.
I often wonder how many national newspaper stories have as little basis in fact!