Collectors Pay Thousands for British Royal Letters, Including Queen Mother's Request for Gin

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Collectors paid thousands of dollars Saturday for letters from British royalty to a trusted servant, including a note from the late Queen Mother Elizabeth requesting the aide pack bottles of gin and Dubonnet for an outing, "in case it is needed."

The note sold for $32,000 at an auction of mementoes belonging to royal servant William Tallon.

Tallon, nicknamed "Backstairs Billy" by the press, joined the royal household at age 15 and served the family for 51 years, rising to become the queen mother's steward and Page of the Backstairs. He died in November, aged 72.

His vast collection of royal memorabilia includes photographs, paintings, gifts, letters and Christmas cards, and gives an insight into the informal side of life in the royal family.

The queen mother's letter to Tallon had been expected to sell for about $600 but drew a flurry of telephone bids

In it, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II requested lunch outdoors and said she wanted to take along "two small bottles of Dubonnet and gin ... in case it is needed."

A 1982 letter from Princess Diana telling Tallon about the birth of her first child, Prince William, sold for $10,000. "We are not sure at the moment what has hit us, except a very strong pair of lungs!" the princess wrote. "Both parents are making little sense, we just seem to spend most of our time gazing at this tiny person!"

Another letter, in which Diana thanked Tallon for putting flowers in her room before the "great day" of her July 29, 1981 wedding, sold for $8,400.

The sale also included items from the collection of Tallon's long-term partner Reginald Wilcock, an underbutler in the royal household. Tallon inherited his memorabilia when Wilcock died in 2001.

The sale caused a buzz among royal memorabilia collectors, attracting about 300 people to the Reeman Dansie auction house in Colchester, east of London. Auctioneers said 1,000 more followed the sale by phone and over the Internet.

The 700 lots were valued collectively at about $500,000, but auctioneer James Grinter said the final total was likely to be much higher. Proceeds will go to the beneficiaries of Tallon's will.

"For a lot of people, it's the only way they can get anything that touches the queen mother," Grinter said. "There is something here for everyone and people are hoping to get their own little memento."