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Camilla visits brother's old school


The Duchess of Cornwall with her brother, Mark Shand

The Duchess of Cornwall with her brother, Mark Shand

The Duchess of Cornwall with her brother, Mark Shand

The Duchess of Cornwall celebrated her brother's love for life as she visited his old school - and told tales about her sibling chasing her with a cricket bat.

Camilla was welcomed back to Saint Ronan's School in Kent, a place she had not visited for more than 50 years and where her younger brother, Mark Shand, spent his happiest school days.

The 62-year-old conservationist and travel writer - known at school by the nickname Shandy-Ba - died unexpectedly in New York in April after falling and hitting his head.

Broadcaster Stephen Fry described him as "a traveller and a rogue and an establishment figure" after attending his memorial service last month.

But Mr Shand's passion in life was protecting the endangered Asian elephant and his rescue of Tara, whom he saved from the streets of eastern India and rode 600 miles to safety, led to his best-selling work Travels On My Elephant, and the foundation of the conservation charity Elephant Family.

At a school assembly the Duchess dedicated an all-weather pitch - still being built and named Shandy-Ba - to her brother's memory.

She told the pupils at the day and boarding prep school: "Wherever Mark is today, he would be so proud that this all-weather pitch has been named after him. I think he would be rather surprised too because although he adored Saint Ronan's - and said it was the best school he'd ever been to - he didn't like school very much afterwards."

The Duchess added joking: "This is where his love of sport started, he adored cricket. I'm told he was very good-tempered, at home he had a foul temper and chased both me and my sister round the garden with his cricket bat - but it was all smiles again."

Camilla toured the school first founded in 1883 and based in a Grade II listed mansion in Hawkhurst. It is believed one of the last occasions she visited Saint Ronan's was to take part in a sister's race on school sports day in 1963.

Former pupils include Sir Michael Grylls, the ex-Conservative MP and father of the adventurer Bear Grylls, and former Daily Express cartoonist Osbert Lancaster. Headmaster William Trelawny-Vernon described Mr Shand as a sporty pupil who had captained the cricket and rugby teams during his time at the school from 1959-1964.

In the school's main hall, which had a lavishly painted ceiling, Camilla chatted to David Duttson, 78, her brother's former form teacher known to the pupils as Dutty.

Mr Duttson also taught Mr Shand English and said of his nickname Shandy-Ba: "Nicknames very often came from the head and I remember him as Shandy-Ba.

"He was aged eight or nine and was full of humour and very good value and always had a smile on his face - a really super chap."

He gave the Duchess a copy of some of her brother's final term marks across a range of subjects.

Richard Slocock, 63, known as Slockit at Saint Ronan's, reminisced about his good friend Shandy-Ba, but could not shed any light about where his nickname came from.

Camilla was shown a picture of the school cricket team which featured her brother and Mr Slocock, who was the wicket keeper.

After meeting the Duchess, he said: "Mark was a good bowler and I was in the rugby team with him - we were good friends.

"I was telling Camilla that I had a rubber ball and I would be on the school lawns with her brother and we would throw it endlessly between each other during the summer - it's one of those memories that's remained with me."

Mr Slocock, who runs a trout fishery and bed and breakfast in Dorset, lost touch with his friend after they left school but recognised him after he became involved with rescuing elephants.

He said: "I didn't hear anything from him 'til the elephant charity began, then I saw a picture and that was the first time I'd seen him in a long time."

Later, Camilla, who is president of the United Kingdom Vineyards Association, visited Chapel Down Winery at the nearby Tenterden Vineyard in Kent.

Since it was established in 2001, Chapel Down has become one of the country's leading wine producers and a multi-award winning international brand.

Its products range from sparkling wine to craft beers and last month raised £4 million from a crowd-funding initiative which it will use to plant up to 400 acres of recently acquired land, build a new winery and brewery, and to extend tourist facilities at Tenterden.

During the visit, the Duchess, whose father was a wine merchant, cut some grapes from a Chardonnay vine before sampling some wine on another part of the site.

Towards the end of the visit, she praised the firm, saying: "It's a huge pleasure to be here and Chapel Down is certainly one of the finest wineries I have seen. Long may it thrive."