In her former life, Tiggy Legge-Bourke (pictured with Prince Harry at polo in 1997) was personal assistant to the Prince of Wales, nanny-cum-companion to William and Harry
As ever, the pillows are plumped and the duvets smoothed and readied for weekend guests. Downstairs a flickering fire in the grate, chocolate cake in a tin marked Tiggy’s Treats and a decanter of whisky, to help yourself to, all add to the scene of cosy hospitality.
At the end of a potholed track, deep in the Welsh countryside, Ty’r Chanter (in English ‘the House of the Singer’) has been welcoming bed and breakfast visitors for more than ten years.
New arrivals are greeted by three boisterous dogs and a landlady who knows all about rolling out a red carpet. In her former life, Tiggy Legge-Bourke was personal assistant to the Prince of Wales, nanny-cum-companion to William and Harry and deadly rival to the young princes’ mother, Princess Diana.
This week it was reported that Prince Harry had introduced her to his fiancée, Meghan Markle, following an official trip to Cardiff, a 45-minute drive from Tiggy’s imposing country home.
To make such a detour would certainly not be out of character for the prince, who adored the larger-than-life former nursery school teacher.
He would want the girl he marries this year to get to know the figure who, with the exception of his mother, was the single most influential woman in his childhood.
Throughout the tumult of an upbringing scarred by the separation and divorce of his parents, and then by Diana’s tragic death, Tiggy was an ocean of calmness, providing stability, affection and unquestioning support.
Banished to the roof of St James’s Palace to smoke as Charles hated the smell, she was once photographed, fag in mouth, driving a Land Rover with Harry leaning out of the window shooting rabbits.
Charles was not amused. He was even more exasperated when it emerged that Tiggy had been behind an ill-advised expedition in which Harry and William had abseiled down a 150ft-high dam without safety lines or helmets.
Now 52, the Tiggy that greeted Harry and Meghan at her imposing stone farmhouse off a two-mile long lane was very different from the figure who left royal service to marry. (Picture of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, now Mrs Pettifer, taken in 2014)
But Tiggy, who is said to have provided Harry with his first crafty drag on a cigarette — a habit he took years to quit — sailed through the ensuing furore. She was simply indispensable, while William and Harry were impervious to criticism of her.
To them, she was a mix of surrogate mother and boisterous big sister whose only outlook on life was to turn up the fun dial to over-the-top.
Now 52, the Tiggy that greeted Harry and Meghan at her imposing stone farmhouse off a two-mile long lane was very different from the vivacious figure who left royal service to marry, some 19 years ago.
Her shiny mane of brown hair that she used to wear in a ponytail or pinned back with an Alice band — earning her the affectionate nickname of ‘The Thumping Great Sloane’ — is now flecked with silvery grey. The sparkling eyes that are said to have beguiled more than one suitor are usually hidden behind spectacles.
Today, Tiggy’s life is far removed from her royal duties which saw her skiing with the princes in the swish Swiss resort of Klosters, holidaying on yachts and taking Harry on safari in Botswana.
She and her husband Charles Pettifer, a former officer in the Coldstream Guards, have converted their home in the Brecon Beacons into an upmarket, £100-a-night guesthouse.
Tiggy Legge-Bourke and Prince Charles had been pictured pecking each other on the cheek, here in 1995
It could do with a lick of paint, but visitors speak highly of the ‘joyful hostess’ and her ‘wonderful homemade cakes’. Their guests are encouraged to muck in with the former royal aide and her family. She has two sons with her husband and two stepsons. Some of that old anything-goes nanny magic is still on hand, however.
She advertises what she calls ‘the Tiggy experience’, writing on her website: ‘Charlie and I have four boys, three dogs and a menagerie of animals here at Ty’r Chanter and if you decide to come and stay you really are part of our family. Our home is your home for as long as you stay. I have no rules and regulations, as they say!’
As children, William and Harry loved the place. And it is easy to see why. Red kites and buzzards wheel in the skies overhead, hedgerows are alive with pheasants and the nearby River Usk, filled with brown trout, is where Tiggy taught them how to fly-fish.
But the country pursuits were only part of the story. Most of all, their visits to Wales were an escape from their warring parents.
For a time, Tiggy was the solitary adult in whose company they could properly relax and who they trusted absolutely.
In 1996 at the age of 13, William pointedly asked his parents not to attend Eton’s Fourth of June celebrations, inviting Tiggy instead.
Harry was even closer to her, and she has been part of every landmark event in his life —including his Sandhurst passing out parade and his graduation as a helicopter pilot at the Army Aviation Centre in Andover, Hants. She will be at his Windsor wedding in May.
It was no surprise that when she had her first son, Fred, now 16, Tiggy asked Harry to be his godfather. A year later William accepted the role of godparent to her younger son Tom, 15.
Harry was closer to Tiggy Legge-Bourke, and she has been part of every landmark event in his life —including his Sandhurst passing out parade and his graduation as a helicopter pilot
So just how did Tiggy become such a central part of the royal princes’ lives — and so essential to Harry that he would make a 40-mile diversion from a royal visit in order for Meghan to meet her?
What is perhaps all the more remarkable is the brothers’ loyalty to a woman who — unwittingly, it has be said — brought so much unhappiness and distress to their mother.
It must certainly have helped that long before she joined the royal household, Tiggy was already familiar with the royal way.
Her mother Shan is a long-standing lady-in-waiting to the Princess Royal, and her younger brother Harry, an ex-Army officer, was a Page of Honour to the Queen. (Her late father William was a director of the merchant bank Kleinwort Benson.)
Years ago Prince Charles would shoot on the Legge-Bourkes’ Glanusk Estate in south Wales and he knew the family well when, early in 1993, shortly after his separation from Diana, he was on the look-out for a young assistant to help with the boys.
It was Prince William’s godmother Lady Susan Hussey, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, who recommended her for the £18,000-a-year job.
Born Alexandra, she has been known by her Sloaney nickname of Tiggy due to her childhood love of Beatrix Potter’s hedgehog Mrs Tiggywinkle. Outdoorsy and a lover of country pursuits, especially shooting and fishing, she was also not burdened by any great intellectual ability.
Her headmistress at Heathfield, the girls’ boarding school at Ascot, recalled of her former pupil: ‘She was reliable, capable and very responsible, although not in the least bit academic. She had heaps of character and was very lively.’ All these qualities made her ideally suited to be a companion to William, then 11, and Harry almost nine.
Born Alexandra, she has been known by her Sloaney nickname of Tiggy due to her childhood love of Beatrix Potter’s hedgehog Mrs Tiggywinkle
With her peachy cheeks and jolly hockey sticks approach, she hurled herself into her new role. ‘She was part servant, part sister and part mother,’ remembers a royal aide from those days.
She would load the boys’ ponies onto trailers for polo and hunting and while away hours with them outside fishing — at which she is highly skilled — climbing, go-karting and shooting rabbits. She organised treats like fairground rides on summer days at Highgrove.
But her closeness to the boys stirred maternal jealousies in Diana, who feared she was becoming a surrogate mother figure. When Tiggy began referring to the boys as ‘my babies’ Diana’s concerns seemed to be justified. She believed Tiggy had too much influence, not only over the boys but also over Charles.
The princess complained to Charles, who airily dismissed her worries.
It didn’t help when, unwisely, Tiggy said of her royal charges at the time: ‘I give them what they need —fresh air, a rifle and a horse. She (Diana) gives them a tennis racket and a bucket of popcorn at the movies.’ Diana was incensed, and pointedly suggested that if she employed a male companion she would never have heard the end of it from the prince.
But things became serious in 1995 when Diana allowed herself to become convinced that Tiggy and Charles were having an affair.
Although she knew the idea must be preposterous — she once told me Charles would ‘never sleep with a servant’ — several new figures in her life drip-fed her the idea this was the case. Their motives were highly questionable, but in the damaging fall-out from the Panorama TV interview — when she announced there were ‘three people’ in her marriage — she grasped hold of the idea like a drowning man clings on to a life-belt.
She became convinced that rather than Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Charles actually wanted to marry Tiggy. ‘It was ludicrous but at the time she was beleaguered and felt isolated,’ a friend of the princess says. ‘Also, at the time, Charles was being encouraged to drop Camilla, and it’s easy to see how the idea of the personable Tiggy — who was single and well-connected — becoming close to the prince could take a grip in the princess’s mind.’
This week it was reported that Prince Harry had introduced Tiggy to his fiancée, Meghan Markle, following an official trip to Cardiff (pictured)
The two had been seen kissing — fairly chaste kisses, just pecks on the cheek — but they set gossips talking. While his staff dismissed them as the quite natural affectionate actions of an older man for a younger woman he had known since she was a child, Diana was unconvinced.
Tersely, Diana noted that Prince Charles had never been known to offer even the most cursory public show of affection to white-haired nanny Olga Powell, even though she had been with them at Kensington Palace since William was born.
At a Christmas party for royal staff she confronted Tiggy, believing she had been pregnant with Charles’s child.
Diana told Tiggy: ‘So sorry to hear about the baby’ — an apparent reference to her belief that the nanny had lost the child. The story of the ‘pregnancy’, like her alleged relationship with Charles, was without foundation and a figment of Diana’s imagination.
Tiggy fled the party in tears and days later instructed libel lawyers to write to the princess demanding she withdraw the remarks and give an apology. It never came. The full details only emerged at the inquest into the princess’s death, which also heard suggestions that Diana believed Charles wanted her killed to clear the way to marry Tiggy.
Tiggy in fact came into her own after the boys’ mother died, providing invaluable comfort and consolation to the princes.
‘The truth is she never wanted to replace their mother but rather to protect them from the effects of their parents’ feuding,’ says a friend. And she did it rather well, earning William and Harry’s lasting affection and the royal family’s gratitude.
When Tiggy began referring to the boys as ‘my babies’ Diana’s concerns seemed to be justified. She believed Tiggy had too much influence over Charles and the boys
She carried on working for the royals until 1999 when, aged 34, she married Charlie, a former childhood sweetheart. He now works in the world of private security, guarding merchant ships from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. William and Harry were at the wedding in Wales.
When she’s not seeing to her B&B guests, she is giving fishing lessons. She once remarked: ‘When a fresh 10lb salmon takes your fly, it’s the best fun you can have with your clothes on.’
In the nearby market town of Crickhowell, Tiggy is a popular local figure. ‘She’s always jolly and walks around with purpose, even if she is just shopping for a few groceries,’ says a neighbouring farmer.
‘It would be nice if Harry brought Meghan to stay at Tiggy’s place, to show her where he came to have ordinary fun as a boy. Don’t most men do that when they meet their special one?’
As for Tiggy, dressed in colourful purple trousers and a matching purple top, she told callers she had nothing to say about her royal visitors.
‘It was undoubtedly a welcome interruption,’ says the friend, ‘but you can’t imagine she would swap her carefree life here for the royal world any more.’