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Former royal snapper living in Normandy tells of gnome gift to Charles

Photographer recalled ‘nerve-wracking’ responsibility of job ranging from capturing Princess Diana walking in minefields to Queen holding hat on windy day

Buckingham Palace called the gnome gift idea ‘a good one’ Pic: Michael Forster

The Queen’s death brought back a wave of memories for a former Daily Mail photographer, now living in Normandy, who followed the royals between 1985 and 2000. 

One of Michael Forster’s greatest memories was the time he gave the new King a garden gnome. 

He had been passing the time during a royal visit with one of Charles’s private secretaries, who asked, jokingly, what he would be getting the thenPrince for his birthday. 

“I replied that the Prince was one of the richest people in the world. What, possibly, could I offer – a garden gnome? 

Buckingham Palace said gnome idea 'was a good one!’

“It was a good laugh, but a couple of weeks later, I got a call from Buckingham Palace and they said the garden gnome idea was a good one!” 

The idea of getting a cheap gnome from a garden centre was not on so Mr Forster contacted special effect designers at Shepperton film studios, who were keen on making a special gnome – holding a camera. 

Mr Forster was able to give it to Charles in a light-hearted encounter. “Years later, one of the royal protection officers told me that of all the fabulous gifts the Prince received from royalty like the Sultan of Brunei, it was the gnome which caused them the most trouble. 

“Charles and Camilla liked to have it moved to different places in the garden so they could see who could spot it first…” 

One copy of the glass-fibre gnome was given to Charles and a second was made from the mould for Mr Forster. 

Speaking of the Queen’s death, Mr Forster said: “The Queen played such a large part in British life through so many years, and so many people saw her and exchanged words with her, that it is no wonder there has been the strength of feeling around her death.” 

As part of the accredited royal press pool, Mr Forster had access to special photographer areas as well as being able to go through barriers during walkabouts and other events to get closer to the royals. 

Toured the world with the Queen

He toured the world when the Queen made foreign visits, often going out a couple of days before the royal party’s arrival to set up, do stories about the build-up, and prepare to get the pictures of their arrival. 

Read more: King Charles could travel to France for first state visit as monarch

“It was a privileged position, but also very nerve-wracking,” he said. “You had to concentrate on getting the best picture possible all the time with hundreds of other photographers all trying to get a better shot. It was a huge responsibility.” Personal interactions with the royals were limited. “They came to see us as a necessary evil,” he said. 

“They were polite and gracious and would smile and be pleasant on the few occasions we were together without cameras or crowds, but it did not go beyond that.” 

Of the thousands of pictures he took of the royals, there are some that stick in his memory, including one of Princess Diana in Angola, where she had gone to support the work of the Halo Trust, which cleared mines left over from wars. 

“They had just cleared a path through a minefield and she had the guts to walk down it for the cameras,” he said. 

Another, which won awards, he took on Christmas Day as the royal family left church at Sandringham, just as a fierce gust of wind hit and had the Queen holding on to her hat. 

Move to France

Mr Forster and his wife Tansy moved to Normandy in 2001. “I reached 50, and I thought it was time for something else,” he said. Tansy felt the same. “We’re very happy here.” 

He takes very few photos now. 

“I enjoy going out without the camera and experiencing things without worrying about the picture,” he said. 

He is surprised at the interest French people show in the royal family. “President Macron’s speech in English though showed the importance the Queen played in international relations.”

Read more: French president Emmanuel Macron pays tribute to the Queen in speech: “We all feel an emptiness”

Related links

French postal service pays tribute to Queen with collector stamps

Seven facts about the Queen’s relationship with France

‘Surprised, touched’: our French neighbours’ kindness at Queen’s death

‘We loved her so much’: France reacts to news of the Queen’s deat

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