Royal patronage in action

To Clarence House, home of the HRH the Prince of Wales, for a reception to mark the centenary of Macmillan Cancer Support: there were probably more than 150 people there, ranging from the tough former bankers who now inhabit charity boardrooms to the charity’s staff and major donors. All were slightly a-quiver at the prospect of meeting royalty.

It was, of course, perfectly choreographed: the firm-but-fair police officers at the gate, the servants dispensing Highgrove champagne, the organisers with clipboards moving through the knots of nervous people in the library, arranging and re-arranging them as the heir to the throne approached.

Prince Charles was sound: good handshake, sharp of mind, with an uncanny ability to stay genuinely engaged with a long succession of people for a short space of time. He moved smoothly on and around. Is it taught, or in the genes? My guess is he spoke to nearly everyone there, and that none felt short-changed.

Then into the hallway, with its royal portraits and fine bust of George VI, for the cutting of the cake and a speech. Prince Charles stood on the fourth step of the staircase and recounted how Douglas Macmillan founded the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer in 1911, after watching his father’s pain and suffering as he died from the disease. Since then the charity has gone through many guises and become a household name – part of the nation’s infrastructure.

Prince Charles has been a patron since 1990, and he is a patron of Marie Curie Cancer Care as well. Has his support, his name on the letterhead, been a part of the charity’s growth and success in recent decades? It’s hard to know: how could you research or quantify it? Many charities have thrived without royal patronage. But I haven’t come across many that would turn it down.