I have been feeling extremely guilty. As the festive season looms threateningly on the horizon, our television screen has been replete with appeals on behalf of the homeless and those whose lives have been afflicted by want. Who has not been moved by the plight of migrants barely existing in makeshift camps on country borders and dying in perilous voyages across the Mediterranean and waters like the English Channel?
Safe in our three-bedroomed home, we have economised by shutting down the heating in two unused rooms. Surely they could be put to better use? Surely they could provide shelter for less fortunate members of our human race? And yet, and yet (as Frederick Loewe might put it), it might mean an unaccustomed face, someone without a penny in the till, begging for bread and water, and bill collectors beating at the door.
Facing this classic moral dilemma, one has looked for leadership and guiding example. Like the proverbial bolt from the blue, it came this morning by royal proclamation. The Queen will lead the nation by using a purpose-built Airbnb/Shelter Christmas and New Year algorithm to offer the royal palaces and houses to the homeless and to asylum seekers. Buckingham Palace, home to the Queen, the Duke of York, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex, will offer most of its 775 rooms and nearly 200 live-in staff. Windsor Castle, the Queen's country home in Berkshire, will provide another 1,000 rooms, 300 with open fireplaces that may sully the UK's climate credentials but will be ideal for Christmas stockings.
The Queen will need much of Sandringham House for Christmas through to February, with her family dropping in for Christmas lunch and Prince William and family needing the 10 bedrooms at Anmer Hall, his retreat on the estate. Otherwise, the poor and needy will have a warm welcome to the 775 rooms minus, of course, the 52 royal and guest bedrooms. It may be harder for those who are billeted (perhaps not the best word selection) in one of Balmoral Castle's 52 chilly rooms or the 289 at Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace. For the truly unfortunate at the extremes of her realm, Her Majesty (through the Princes' Foundation) has proferred the Castle of Mey in Caithness (some rooms with distant views of the Dounreay Reactor) or Tamarisk House on the Isles of Scilly, usually reserved for Prince Charles and Camilla.
While there may be other matters of moment taking precedence, the Queen has insisted that Northern Ireland plays its part in the great sleepover. Hillsborough Castle, her official residence within the Irish protocol, will be a safe haven for the unfortunates of Belfast and elsewhere in the six counties.
At Kensington Palace, there are difficulties. It is the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, but they are discussing which apartments might be offered. Instantly, however, the Prince of Wales and Camilla have opened up Clarence House in London, Highgrove House in Gloucestershire and Llwynywermod, a cosy clutch of luxury cottages in Wales.
Princess Anne and her Commander husband have chipped in with some parts of Gatcombe Park which only has 11 bedrooms but extensive stabling and farm buildings on the 750-acre estate offer plenty of opportunities. It is not yet clear what will happen with Sarah Ferguson's pad at Royal Lodge, Windsor, or daughter Princess Eugenie's family home at nearby Frogmore Cottage (nine bedrooms plus guest house) where she lives after Harry and Meghan gave it up for America.
Where the royals lead, others have quickly followed. Boris and Carrie have donated the 10 bedrooms at Chequers along with some yurts and glamping pods on the 1,500 acre estate. Rishi Sunak's 21 rooms at Dorneywood have joined the 115 currently so amicably shared by Dominic Raab and Liz Truss at Chevening House in Kent. Nicola Sturgeon has made it absolutely clear that Bute House in Edinburgh will be available once the bedrooms have been independently cleaned.
In the face of such largesse, to say nothing of sacrifice, we have decided to make our own modest contribution. Two comfortable Lilo beds, plus a gas-fired heater, have transformed our garage into a veritable des res
. We, like the royals, eagerly await the first applicants.
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