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My mother always told me I’d grow up to be a prince. The closest I ever got was dinner at Princess Di’s house. Only she wasn’t home. Just her parents. And 500 servants.

The Earl and Lady Spencer live in a cozy little bungalow just outside of London. It sits on 14,000 acres. That’s not a typo.

The Earl had been Viscount Althorp before he became the eighth Earl Spencer. He didn’t do anything special to get those titles. Didn’t invent penicillin, wasn’t elected by a plurality of his peers. Nope, just born lucky.

We were invited to their house, well, mansion, well, castle, as part of a press junket designed to impress American journalists with Britain’s elite. It was one of those castles that had its own name. Althorp. Does your house have a name? I was thinking of naming our bungalow in Marlton “Herb.”

“The Earl will be down soon,” we were told. “He and Lady Spencer invite you to take a tour.”

And quite a tour it was. The house looks like the set of every Errol Flynn movie ever made. Sweeping staircases, great for duels. Stones brought in by ancient Egyptians. Dutch masters on the walls. The artists, not the stogies.

We were then ushered into the State Dining Room, not to be confused with the three other dining rooms on ground level. We sat at one of those long, dark tables where you really couldn’t see the people at the other end.

The walls were covered with pompous portraits of the Earl’s relatives, other men who’d done nothing for a living and made a small fortune not doing it. Each of us had two servants standing quietly behind our chair, ready to give us a new fork if one had been used or, God forbid, dropped. The temptation to steal some of the silver passed quickly. There were just too many people around.

We had some soup, some salad and some Beef Wellington. The meal itself was not memorable. Have you ever seen a British cow?

The meal ended, as British meals always do, with bread pudding. Never understood that. With all the cakes and pies in the world, why would you ever want to eat bread pudding?

After dinner, we were asked to step into the Great Hall. It was a great hall. The Earl had set up a very Victorian table at the foot of the stairs. On the table was a large pile of books and a small, green metal box.

“The Earl would like each of you to have a signed copy of his new book.” Well, isn’t that nice. A little something personal to bring back to the office. I watched the first couple of dinner guests approach the table, have a few words with the Earl and then do something very strange. They handed him money. Cash money.

“That will be 20 pounds, please,” his assistant told each guest. And, just in case you didn’t have exact change, he dipped into the little green cash box and pulled out some crisp new pictures of Queen Elizabeth.

I couldn’t believe it. I walked over to one of our hosts for the trip and told him, “He’s selling his books. I’m going to say something about this. This is really shabby.”

“Well, if you do,” he said, “be sure to call him ‘My Lord.’”

My Lord? For this clown? Sorry, I don’t call anyone “My Lord,” except, you know, My Lord.

Turns out this was all part of Britain’s Rent-a-Royal program, although they don’t call it that. The royals rent out their homes and themselves to bring in extra cash. Those Dutch masters don’t come cheap, you know.

As I left, with no book in hand, I could only think that we’re so lucky in our country to not have royalty. You know, except for the Bushes and the Clintons and the winner of “Dancing with the Stars.”

August 2014
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