Anna Tyzack meets some of the companies for whom a Royal Warrant is worth its weight in gold…
Approximately 800 companies hold a Royal Warrant in recognition of the goods and services they provide to the three most senior royals, HM the Queen, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and HRH the Prince of Wales. The criteria for qualification are notoriously strict. Even the newest warrant holders will have been used regularly by the household for at least five years- a fact that will have been stringently checked by the Association of Royal Warrant Holders’ selection committee.
The select trusted brands are permitted to display the Royal Arms of the relevant household on their packaging – or all three. The practice of awarding warrants began in 1155, when Henry II granted the Weavers’ Company a Royal Charter. Companies have sought royal favour ever since.
Here is a list of some of the most famous companies that hold the much-coveted Royal Warrant…
Ever since Her Majesty the Queen left her wedding in 1947 wearing a pair of soft fabric Cornelia James gloves, she has remained loyal to the East Sussex-based glovemaker. ‘When you see her black car pulling away and the white gloved hand at the window, that’s one of ours,’ says Andrew Lawson, managing director of the company, which was set up by the late Cornelia James in the Forties. ‘She’s clearly very forward thinking as gloves are the most transformative accessory: they add drama and spectacle, and you catch fewer colds.’
The younger royals are not yet permitted by the Queen to bestow warrants but, when they are, Cornelia James could be up for a second: the Duchess of Cambridge wears their fine merino gloves. ‘It’s the ultimate honour,’ explains Lawson. ‘A mark of British excellence recognised all over the world.’
Wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, which holds two, has held a Royal Warrant for more than two centuries.
Explaining the difficulties involved in being awarded a Royal Warrant, Nick Crean of chocolatier Prestat, maker of the Queen Mother’s favourite rose and violet creams, recently revealed that:
‘There was some debate as to whether she bought enough of our chocolates to qualify for a warrant but this was only because she was given so many,’ explains Nick, who was awarded the Queen Mother’s warrant in 1999. ‘She eventually asked how many chocolates she’d have to eat before we qualified. We received her warrant in her centenary year.’
He also spoke of the impressive variety of the chosen brands: ‘It’s the most fascinating group of people,’ says Nick. ‘At Warrant Holders’ events there’ll be horse feed merchants, champagne houses and royal rat catchers all in one room.’
The list still features a large number of artisans – the Queen’s whip maker, Swaine Adeney Brigg, for example, who is also Prince Charles’s umbrella maker.
Inverawe holds the warrant for its smoked salmon
Halcyon Days for its objets d’art
Louis Roederer for Champagne
Elizabeth Arden is Her Majesty’s go-to for pink lippy and has her warrant for cosmetics
Floris for perfume
Ettinger for leather goods
William & Son for gold and silversmithing
Barbour for raincoats
Hunter for wellies, of course
Surprisingly for some, there are some less posh, more ‘high street’ brands on the list too…
It’s also proof that the Royals aren’t exempt from the mundane expenses – and irritations – of any household: pest controllers, gas suppliers, mechanics and cleaners are all on the list.
As well as providing exemplary service, a warrant holder must be discreet – never divulging details of their business with the royals. All companies are thoroughly vetted and security checks performed on those passing through the gates of a royal household.
Judy Reid is Her Majesty’s florist
Judy spends many hours each year arranging floral displays in the flower room at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Yet, even after holding a warrant for seven years, she still feels apprehensive about the responsibility of working in the palace. ‘Flowers are a living thing, so you can never fully relax,’ she says. ‘I worry if they’re going to be out on time; if they’re going to last. And I can’t trust the Scottish weather when it comes to the displays for the garden parties.’
The Queen’s piano tuner, Gordon Bell, finds his ventures into the royal circle equally daunting. He has his car valeted before turning up at Balmoral.
Adrian Button, of Button’s Saddlery, who has Her Majesty’s warrant for saddlery and riding wear, gets butterflies in his stomach when he delivers a new saddle to the stables at Windsor Castle. ‘You have to remember where you are,’ he says. ‘There’s a tendency around horses to treat everyone the same.’
Over the last decade the selection committee has become increasingly concerned that holders demonstrate sound ethical and sustainable principles. Adrian Button, who set up the business with his wife Sheila 43 years ago and has kitted out the first ponies of several royal family members, uses recycled leather to make his tack, while Judy is meticulous about composting the waste leftover from her floral displays.
Green Fuels, which makes biodiesel out of waste cooking oil, holds a warrant.
One of Prince Charles’s newest warrant holders is Walcot Organic Nursery in Worcestershire, whose organic fruit trees are thriving in the orchards at Highgrove.
‘An initial purchase became a bi-annual thing, so we must have been doing something right,’ says Kevin O’Neill, a passionate horticulturalist, who founded the company 15 years ago. ‘Growing organic fruit trees has its challenges but it’s wonderful for a sustainable company to have been recognised alongside so many larger companies.’
The royal households are exacting customers, there’s no question, but they do appreciate the efforts of their warrant holders. Nick Crean of chocolatier Prestat was reminded of this a couple of years ago when he was a little late in sending out the four pound Easter egg he crafts for Her Majesty each year.
‘I received a frantic call from a lady-in-waiting asking what had happened to it,’ he says. ‘At first I thought it was a friend playing a joke but when they asked me to get it to Windsor, I jumped to it.’
Nick knows as well as any other warrant holder that it’s essential not to step out of line. Every five years warrants are reviewed and they can be discontinued or cancelled. ‘As a hallmark of quality, it makes us continually assess how we conduct our business,’ Nick says. ‘But it can only be a good thing to be kept on your toes.’
Update: Rigby & Peller held the Royal Warrant for underwear since 1960 – until this year when the brand’s director exposed her work with the Queen in her book ‘Storm in a D Cup’, and the Royal Warrant was subsequently cancelled.
This article was first published in 2016