Cod tongues, Union Jacks and a full narrative

Placentia-born countess and royal husband relish the beauty of the locals and the landscape

Steve Bartlett
Published on September 20, 2012

They don’t live in a castle.

They live relatively normal lives outside of events involving their famous family and high-profile charities.

And they aren’t pressured or pursued by the paparazzi like others in the British royal family.

“We’re lucky in that respect,” says Lord St. Andrews.

He and his wife, Lady St. Andrews, shared some insight into their lives with The Telegram Wednesday, the last day of a six-day trip to Newfoundland.

The Earl and Countess of St. Andrews are humble, good-humoured and down to earth as they answer questions in a common area at the Murray Premises Hotel.

He’s the great-grandson of King George V, and the eldest son and heir of the Duke of Kent.

She was born at Placentia in May 1958, but left as a toddler.

It was those ties that brought

the couple here. During this past weekend, they helped mark the 350th anniversary of her hometown.

The couple married in 1988 and resides in Cambridge.

She lectures at the storied university there, on philosophers such as Mary Wollstonecraft. She also supervises papers on the history of political thought.


He focuses on charitable work that sees him sit as a trustee or patron of organizations like the Welsh Sinfonia and SOS Children’s Villages, which cares for orphans and children in need.

“I think they do amazing work around the world,” he says.

When it’s mentioned that people assume their life is romantic, Lord St. Andrews is quick to say, “I think if they saw us day by day, they’d change their view very quickly.”

Lady St. Andrews says she lives like anyone who teaches at a university, but that she also gets to partake in special family and public occasions. She’s also heavily involved in charity work.

“We’re very lucky that we’re able to attend, or are invited to attend, some events, which are for us family events, but for the public, they take on a different aspect,” she says.

“And we’re very lucky that ... we get very special invitations, like the one we just received from Placentia. ... We’re shown — by experts and people who are very enthusiastic — very special places.”

As the Duke of Kent, his father carries out official duties on behalf of Queen Elizabeth.

In principle, Lord St. Andrews will be the next to hold the title, but he says it’ll be up to the monarch to decide if he becomes the Duke of Kent and what responsibilities he assumes.

If it happens, he doesn’t expect his duties will be to the extent of his father’s.

As for the paparazzi shadowing every move more high-profile members of the royal family make, the St. Andrews say it’s not something they have to deal with, although there was some interest in them when they got engaged.

Lady St. Andrews feels living in Cambridge helps keep them out of the spotlight.

“If you live in London and go to nightclubs and so on, it’s easier for paparazzi to ... It depends very much on what you do,” she says.

The couple arrived in St. John’s last Thursday and spent three days taking part in events at Placentia, including a civic dinner and the launch of the Voices of Placentia Bay festival.

They then spent three days exploring the Avalon Peninsula. They toured Cape St. Mary’s, hiked from Cape Spear to Maddox Cove, and watched a play at Cupids, where a gigantic Union Jack was flown in their honour.

“That was really a sight to behold,” Lady St. Andrews says. “We’re very honoured that they raised it for us.”

While here they’ve also sampled local delicacies like cod tongues, toutons, Jiggs’ dinner and blueberry wine.

“We haven’t had any moose or caribou,” Lady St. Andrews says. “We had hoped, and we haven’t given up, on snow crab, which Tony Power (their guide at Cape St. Mary’s) went through great lengths to describe the pleasures of eating an entire snow crab.”

After speaking with The Telegram Wednesday morning, their plan was to spend the day in St. John’s, checking out sites like The Rooms and Signal Hill.

The trip was Lady St. Andrews’ first time back on Newfoundland soil since she left five decades ago. She says it has meant a lot to her.

Before coming here, when she discussed her early years, she could only repeat what her parents had told her.

“Now the story has come to life. ... I now have a full narrative,” she says.

One highlight of her time in Placentia was being shown the likely part of the railway track where she was taught to walk by her late father, a civil engineer, here to work on the U.S. naval base at Argentia.

Lady St. Andrews also met a couple of men who may have worked with her late father. She’ll be trying to confirm those connections with her mother.

The St. Andrews say they were struck by the friendliness of the local people and the natural beauty.

Lady St. Andrews points to an obvious connection between those two things.

“The space is meaningless without the people, and of course, the nature of the people is explained in part by the space,” she says, her thoughts hinting at her academic nature.

She uses the tour of Cape St. Mary’s with Tony Power as an example.

“Again, that was the conjunction of personality and nature. Of course, he wouldn’t be as he is without the landscape, but the landscape is completely meaningless without the person and his enthusiasm,” she says.

Lord St. Andrews, who read history at the University of Cambridge, says it’s been fascinating to see the coastlines and communities and realize what a tough life people had, especially in isolated places.

“And we’ve been seeing it in beautiful autumn weather, when most of the year, things are a lot tougher and the seas rougher,” he says. “You get a lot of admiration for these people, a lot of empathy for the lives they lived. Seeing that for myself, that’s impressive.”

Lady St. Andrews notes she felt a close link between the province and England, and it wasn’t like they were in a foreign country.

They hope to return.

They’d like to see more parts of the province, such as L’Anse aux Meadows and Labrador, and they’d like to bring their three children.

Lord St. Andrews would like to fish cod and hike more trails.

The couple is grateful for the welcome they’ve received and say they’ll be recommending Newfoundland to others.

They also appear open to ongoing linkages with the province.

“We’d love to do anything we can to help promote Newfoundland and our historic connections,” Lord St. Andrews says, adding their involvement would really be for the people to decide.

Lady St. Andrews sees possible academic relationships with scholars and organizations in the U.K., like a colleague who studies 18th-century French and British relations.

“Meeting some of the archeologists (in Placentia) I felt there could be some very fruitful relationships there,” she says.

The couple flew back home Wednesday night.

That home, incidentally, is a house.

“We definitely do not live in a castle,” Lady St. Andrews says.

Twitter: @SteveBartlett_