Buckingham Palace confirmed today “with great reluctance” that in January 1997 Prince Charles lobbied Prime Minister John Major to sack Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and replace him with a beautiful Hydrangea Paniculata called Flora.
Following publication of 'The Flora Files' in yesterday's Italian literary magazine, L'Ultimo Scandalo, the Palace now accepts that a tiny proportion of the Prince's correspondence over 30 years has “sought to widen” government attitudes to current affairs.
Many of the 25 published letters were addressed to Prime Minister Major, all begging him to visit Highgrove in order to discuss affairs of State with a wise mystery friend called Flora. Amongst many references to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Prince labels the then Foreign Secretary “a decent enough chap but lacking the instinct and allure of someone special I know.”
However it is the two unpublished and deeply personal letters between The Prince and his beloved Hydrangea that have sparked this new media storm.
Speaking on this morning's Radio 4 Today programme, ex Highgrove Head Gardener, Henrietta Fosdyke-Bolt, confirmed that a flowering shrub called Flora had indeed secretly enjoyed regular private audiences with the Prince of Wales throughout most of his marriage to Princess Diana.
Miss Fosdyke-Bolt told John Humphrys that every evening after dinner, the moment Diana had put on her headphones and nipped off upstairs, Charles would sneak into the library, slip quietly through the neo-Georgian French windows and excitedly stride across the lawn to his shrub and herbaceous perennial border - for a private tête-à-tête with Flora.
"They shared all his most intimate secrets," the loyal gardener told listeners. "Strictly between you and me, Charles worshipped that Hydrangea. He called her Flora and never forgot her birthday. They chatted for hours and hours. Sometimes all night. And oh yes, she had some blooms on her. I often watched him gently stroking her petals under the moonlight. One Christmas he gave her a silver box filled with blood and bonemeal fertiliser."
Sadly, within months of the final letter, Major had lost the general election, Malcolm Rifkind was no longer Foreign Secretary and Princess Diana had been tragically killed in a Paris car crash. With Tony Blair at Number 10 and Robin Cook ensconced at the Foreign Office, the Prince of Wales appeared to lose all interest in affairs of State. And thus no more was ever written about Flora, the mysterious Hydrangea of Highgrove.