Remembering Ted Hughes and Sir John Betjeman: Prince Charles talks to the current poet laureate
The poet laureate Simon Armitage managed to tease out some royal reminiscences of other laureates when he invited the Prince of Wales to join him in his The Poet Laureate Has Gone to his Shed BBC Radio 4 podcast series. In fact Armitage and HRH were not in the poet laureate’s shed at all, but in a restored barn in Wales, on one of Prince Charles’s properties. In a wide-ranging conversation that focused on the countryside, nature and the worldwide threat to the environment, Prince Charles also remembered Ted Hughes: “I used to love sitting at his feet, listening to him. A great bardic figure.”
He said Hughes had once advised him that a good way of remembering the names of plants was to think of what their names conjured up: “He was so much better than I was at that sort of thing.” Hughes was also a keen fisherman, and used to go fishing “with my grandmother” [the Queen Mother] on the river Dee in Scotland.
Sir John Betjeman was the poet laureate at the time of the Prince’s investiture, but he also met him at Cambridge, as Betjeman was a friend of the Dean of Trinity. “He was always incredibly funny, I adored him. Wonderful, eccentric wit.”
They talked of creativity, and Prince Charles mentioned that he had played the cello, painted, but recently had drawn great satisfaction from “laying hedges in the winter. It’s a funny sort of rough art form … hawthorn and hazel.”
Armitage quizzed him on his favourite flower, and bird. HRH plumped for the delphinium, for its “intensity of colour and form”. He believed they were “an essential part of a cottage garden … clumps of them. The fun is to see how tall you can get them.”
The interview resounded to the cries of non-native peacocks, but the Prince insisted his favourite bird was the swift. “Windsor Castle provides an fantastic environment for them to nest. That incredible cry they make. I’ve been having great fun trying to attract them here in Wales. For me, the world would end if the swallows, swifts and martins don’t come back …”