It was a quiet afternoon at Balmoral on that fateful day of September 11, 2001, but like everyone around the world, the Queen and the Royal Family were shocked by the news of the terrible events in the United States, when terrorists killed nearly 3000 people in attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and in the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania.
A few days later at a service of remembrance, our then ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, read out a heartfelt message from the Queen. “These are dark and harrowing times for families and friends of those who are missing or who suffered in the attack," she wrote. She ended her message: “Nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments. Grief is the price we pay for love."
Those were curiously personal words from the Queen whose speeches are so often couched in diplomatic language and subject to government approval.
What lay behind them was the fact that the Queen had just lost her best friend, Lord Carnarvon, who died suddenly on the day the Twin Towers fell. Henry George Reginald Molyneux Herbert, 7th Earl of Carnarvon, had been her racing manager and one of her closest friends since their childhood.
Always known as ‘Porchie’, from his previous title of Lord Porchester before he inherited the earldom in 1987, he was said to be one of the few people who could contact the Queen at almost any time to discuss her beloved horses. Their close friendship became the subject of scurrilous gossip which was studiously ignored by both the Royal Family and the Carnarvons, whose ancestral home is Highclere Castle, the setting for the television series Downton Abbey.
‘Porchie’ was the grandson of the 5th Earl, who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. He was the son of an American mother, Anne Wendell, and he also married an American, Jean Wallop. Their three children became friends of the next royal generation.
Their daughter Carolyn was a one-time girlfriend of Prince Andrew and one of Princess Diana’s circle. Carolyn married John Warren, a former stable boy who worked with Lord Carnarvon at his stud farm. After the Earl died, John succeeded his father-in-law as the Queen’s racing manager. Continuing the family connections even further, John and Carolyn’s daughter, Susanna, is now part of the social circle of Princes William and Harry.
In September 2001, isolated in her lonely position as monarch, the Queen could not publicly express her sorrow at the loss of someone whose friendship she had known for over 60 years, but the words ‘grief is the price we pay for love’ must also have held for her a special and private meaning.