SMITH OF THE STAR: Diamond days for Renishaw

Lady Alexandra Hayward (Sitwell) atr Renishaw
Lady Alexandra Hayward (Sitwell) atr Renishaw
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HOW does one celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when one’s family has been close to royalty for centuries?

Simple. One goes for it - big-time.

The Sitwell’s have been going all out for royal occasions at Renishaw Hall since the Prince Regent stayed there after a day at Doncaster races in 1806 - they even built a new ballroom especially for the occasion.

While they haven’t added to the Derbyshire house for this Jubilee weekend there is to be a huge public celebration of the Queen’s 60th year on the throne.

And after a rummage through the dark corners of the house built in 1625 the Sitwells have come up with a pretty impressive royal exhibition - never seen in public before - tracing the historic links between the two families.

Exhibits like the blue enamel George III snuff box, recently found in an old drawer and made to celebrate the return to sanity of the king in 1789.

The Imperial silver teaspoon nicked from the coronation of Tsar Alexander in 1883 by invited guest Sir George Sitwell and stashed away at Renishaw ever since and the blackened parchment scroll restored to reveal itself as the Grant Of Baronetcy to the Sitwells in 1808.

Not a bad haul from a spring clear-out and one that the current Sitwell, Lady Alexandra Hayward, by marriage, is very pleased about.

“We’re really looking forward to the weekend, all the exhibits are from within the house and we have all manner of things going on as part of the celebrations,” said 53-year-old mother of two Alexandra, who inherited Renishaw Hall from her father Sir Reresby Sitwell who died in March 2009.

“We have outdoor cinema screen showing The Queen and The King’s Speech, a big lunch on Sunday in the stable courtyard, volunteers are hand-making the bunting and there is a carriage procession with our family carriage on show for the first time since we used it at our wedding 21 years ago.

“I think the Queen must be thrilled that people are so excited and making all these plans and preparations for the Jubilee weekend all over the country. We are certainly going for it!

“I drove up from London the other day and all the radio stations were gearing up for the Jubilee and people are starting to realise this is a pretty special occasion and that she is a pretty special lady.

“I have met her a few times, once at Royal Ascot, various parties and a weekend house party and other events. It’s usually a rather terrifying occasion but she has a charm that puts one at ease, that’s a great gift.

“A lot of what she is about is that she knew from a very early age what her life was destined to be.

“When you think of the people she has met and the things she has witnessed in her life she has to be one of the most interesting women in the world.

“She has talked with so many Prime Ministers and heads of state that she must have some wonderful stories to tell. People must blurt out all sorts of things they shouldn’t say through nervousness!”

Lady Alexandra’s enthusiasm for the monarchy is understandable and infectious but what does she think of those who consider the Jubilee a right royal waste of time and money?

“People are free to take their own point of view but I don’t understand or agree with that,” said Alexandra in the .

“I think it’s rather sad that people can’t enjoy it. I think it’s such a part of our national character. We need something to cheer ourselves up at the moment, life is pretty bleak out there for a lot of people.

“It’s amazing that we still have our Royal Family and people all around the world are fascinated by the fact that we keep it all going.

“The new generation of the family in Harry and William are moving with the times and making the monarchy more approachable. The Queen is the way she is and we would not want that to change, change is up to the next generation.”

This weekend the Sitwells will be toasting her majesty with wine created by the last generation and grown at Renishaw. Renishaw estate wine is now highly-rated but was not always so sought after.

“When my father used to open the Renishaw wine we all used to dive for cover,” laughed Alexandra.

“When he first planted the vines everyone thought he was bloody mad. I remember as a child him dragging us round vineyards in France looking at vines that might be suitable to be grown in Derbyshire but it has been proved a great success and he was very proud of it.”

Presumably he would have been proud of the plans for the weekend too.

“We are going to celebrate this weekend and I hope people will join us at Renishaw because The Queen is an extraordinary woman,” adds Alexandra. “She does 430 public events each year, that’s extraordinary.

“No matter how much comfort she lives in that’s an extraordinary effort and I think people appreciate that.”