The Queen’s True Worth, Part One
- from the TRF Blog, written by David McClure
Of the many revelations to come out of last year’s phone hacking trial, perhaps the most startling concerned the affair of the stolen nuts at the palace. According to an email from the News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman to his editor Andy Coulson, the Queen was so “narked” about the way the police were pilfering all the nibbles left outside of her Buckingham Palace apartments that “she started marking the bowls to see when the levels dipped” and sent round a memo instructing palace officers to “keep their sticky fingers out.” Her Majesty is famed for her frugality and has been known to eat breakfast off of Tupperware plates but was she so strapped for cash she could not afford an extra packet of Bombay Mix? Or, is she in fact like many of her aristocratic cousins: asset rich but income poor?
In fact, when last year the Sunday Times Rich List compiled a table of the wealthiest aristocrats, the Queen came a surprising 14th. Top of the pile was the Duke of Westminster (£8,500m) followed by the Earl Cadogan (£4,200m) and the Duke of Devonshire (£800m). The Queen’s wealth was put at a modest £330m. To be fair, there is an element of guesswork in all lists of the mega-rich since without access to their bank accounts or tax returns, valuers can do no more than speculate about the exact size of many hidden assets.
When it comes to the Queen, her landed property is easiest to put a price tag on since Balmoral and Sandringham are hard to hide. The two private residences have been valued at more than £60m, but any prospective Donald Trump wanting to snap up another Scottish golf course or some prime Norfolk real estate might have to pay double that amount when the added value of the royal cachet is factored in.
But some of Her Majesty’s most valuable possessions are kept under wraps – or rather protective sheets. Queen Elizabeth inherited from her father, King George VI, the Royal Philatelic Collection, the world’s most comprehensive collection of postage stamps of Britain and the Commonwealth. Many of the most prized pieces were assembled by that most obsessive philatelist, King George V, who thought nothing of seconding Foreign Office staff during World War One to work on his hobby; on one occasion dragooning the diplomat Harold Nicolson into hunting down a rare batch of British military stamps with the word “Levant” misprinted on the face (later, as a diarist, he got his own back by writing that “for 17 years George V did nothing at all but kill animals and stick in stamps.”) With just one set of stamps, a Kirkcudbright Cover of ten penny blacks, recently valued at £4m, the Queen’s total collection must be worth well over £10m and some estimates put the figure as high as £100m.
The Queen also owns a valuable art collection worth many millions (the Crown Jewels, the Royal Collection and the official residences are inalienable state treasures and, as such, do not figure in her private wealth) and she also inherited the Queen Mother’s collection of paintings and jewellery with an estimated value of £60m. It was at first suggested by the palace that the art work had been transferred to the Royal Collection, but it was recently confirmed by a senior curator that they are in fact the private property of Her Majesty.
A more mysterious aspect of her wealth is her portfolio of shares (rumoured to be in blue chip British companies). Its secrecy is guaranteed under a mechanism granted only to the world’s heads of state known as the Bank of England Nominees whereby any share dealing is conducted through an anonymous nominee company. Last year the Sunday Times Rich List put their value at £105m, but the figure is highly speculative due to our near complete ignorance of her equity investments. The only hint as to the scale of her investment income came in 1996 with the Diana divorce, when the Queen was reported to have come to the aid of Prince Charles in financing the £17m settlement. If Her Majesty was able to release perhaps as much as £10m in cash, then this would suggest that her investment income must be worth many tens of millions of pounds.