Royalty and statesmen

Pictured with the Queen Mother on her 90th birthday, Backstairs Billy's collection offered a real insight into his life with the royal family
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Among the near 700 items on sale was a handwritten letter from Princess Diana after the birth of her first son, Prince William. It was one of eight letters from the late Princess which in total netted 20,000

Expected to raise a few hundred, this handwritten note from the Queen Mother - saying she "will take two small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed" - was sold for 16,000 to a telephone bidder
Photo: Reeman Dansie Auctions

Bidding fever as Backstairs Billy's royal collection is sold

6 JULY 2008
For over half a century, Buckingham Palace servant William Tallon kept every memento of his time working with the royal family. On Saturday, his unique collection brought interest from all over the world and resulted in a bidding war few expected as his 694 pieces of memorabilia went under the hammer.

It had been hoped that the day's auction, at Reeman Dansie in Colchester, Essex, would raise 250,000. In fact, the memorabilia attracted so much attention that the total was almost double that. By the time the hammer went down for the last time, the near 700 items had raised 444,634.

Among the star lots was a letter from the late Queen Mother, to whom "Backstairs Billy", as he was known, gave years of devoted service as her steward. In the handwritten note, the royal asks for some Dubonnet and gin to be packed with her belongings, "in case it is needed".

Expected to raise 200 and 300, the setter sold for 16,000. As the hammer hit the gavel, the packed saleroom burst into applause.

One of the most touching items on sale was a letter sent by Princess Diana after the birth of Prince William. "We are not sure at the moment what has hit us, except a very strong pair of lungs," wrote the Princess. The note raised 5,000 to a mystery telephone bidder.

In service with the royal family for 52 years, since the age of 15, Billy kept every thank-you letter, invitation and Christmas card he received. He died last year, aged 72.