camilla parker bowles reindeer

The Duchess of Cornwall borrows Santa's reindeer for festive fun

Santa's helper!

Emily Nash

The Duchess of Cornwall dished up sausage and mash as she treated children - helped by two of her charities - to an encounter with two of Santa’s reindeer at a magical Christmas lunch at Clarence House on Thursday. The excited youngsters, who are supported by Helen and Douglas House Children's Hospice and the Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children’s Charity, took turns to feed "Dancer and Blitzen" handfuls of lichen in the garden after enjoying a festive feast in the dining room inside.

Camilla told them the annual event always signalled "the start of Christmas", adding: "I haven't thought about it before today, but I come in and see the tree and the children and everything and it just gets me in a Christmas mood." Jasper Grannum, of Chalfont St Giles, was thrilled when Camilla offered him a second helping of his favourite sausage and mash. "She's a beautiful lady," he said, beaming. Asked if she was his new best friend, he added: "Probably."

The 12-year-old Chelsea FC fan suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle wasting condition, which has left him confined to a wheelchair since last year. Mum Nicola said: "He was diagnosed when he was two and lost the ability to walk when he was 11. He loves his sports and used to play football, but now he plays wheelchair football." Jasper goes to Helen and Douglas House hospice for respite care, giving his family, including a nine-year-old sister, a break from 24-hour care.

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"He has been going for two or three years now and he loves it. The nurses there are incredible," said Nicola. "The Duchess has been so lovely, she's a very warm person. Jasper has been really looking forward to coming and it’s been wonderful." Aidan Birnie, nine, joined the party along with mum Gillian and his nurse Karen Berry, whose post was funded by Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity. They were treated to complimentary stay at The Savoy Hotel after flying down from their home near St Andrews in Scotland.

Aidan, who has epilepsy and ADHD, was only told where they were going once they got to the airport. Karen said: "We didn't want to overexcite him but he was thrilled when we told him." Gillian added: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we are honoured to be here." The Duchess also invited the youngsters to help her decorate a giant tree and try on a bearskin worn by assistant equerry Jack Farmelo, of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards.

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Alexander Harvey, 10, of Northampton, was joined by mum Elizabeth and grandmother Valerie Bignell, after being invited through Helen and Douglas House. "It means everything to be here today," said Elizabeth. "We have been so looking forward to it. She’s (Camilla) such a lovely lady." After lunch, which also featured treats including chocolate Santas, candy canes and iced Christmas biscuits, the Duchess led the children outside. Spotting the reindeer from Randwick Reindeer, nine-year-old Lara Mehmet, shouted: "It's a reindeer! A serious reindeer!"

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"It's a very serious reindeer," laughed Camilla. Lara, who was joined by mum Semar and her Roald Dahl nurse Anna Jewitt, has an undiagnosed condition and is under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital. She is one of four disabled actors playing the character of Tiny Tim in this year’s production of A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic Theatre.

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