Camilla, who notches up her three-quarters of a century on Sunday, has no intention of slowing down just yet, she told an audience of actors, artists, writers, and others from Britain’s arts establishment all in their seventies, eighties, and nineties.
The future Queen Consort said: “The Duke of Edinburgh’s philosophy was clear: ‘Look up and look out, say less, do more – and get on with the job’ – and that is just what I intend to do.”
Perhaps taking her cue from her late father-in-law, she also poked fun at her fellow guests and, possibly, fashionable wokery. “Ladies and gentlemen, if I am allowed to call you that,” she said at the start of a speech to laughter.
Clarence House said it was up to others to interpret her remark but aides suggested it was in keeping with the irreverent spirit of the lunch, hosted by her friend Gyles Brandreth and The Oldie magazine.
At the National Liberal Club in London she was feted by towering figures from the arts who heard the Liverpool poet Roger McGough, 84, read a poem, The Living Proof, he had written for the Duchess’s birthday.
It suggested she take life gently after reaching her latest milestone.
“The earth need not move, no call for fanfares and fireworks. The perfect day can be as ordinary as a stroll by the river, as simple as the absence of bad news,” McGough read.
But in a speech, Camilla suggested she would be taking a lead from the Queen and her late husband.
“You might not believe it, but I have actually been trying to keep quiet about reaching three quarters of a century – and, as you see, have failed dismally,” she said.
“I know that some of you were around in 1947 – by the way, a vintage year for claret. It was also the year when the first of the Ealing Comedies was released, the school leaving age was raised to 15, Gardeners’ Question Time was first broadcast, the University of Cambridge admitted women to full membership and soft loo paper went on sale for the first time, in Harrods – much to the nation’s relief.
“It was also in 1947 that the then-Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten – two of the most remarkable people in our country’s history.”
Vowing to follow Philip’s philosophy, she added: “Both he and Her Majesty have always been the very touchstone of what it truly means to ‘get on with the job’, and an inspiration to each one of us here to do the same, whatever our age.”
There were so many famous faces it was hard to know where to begin. Camilla sat between Lord (Andrew) Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Irons during the main course of sea bass and then switched to a table where she was perched between Nigel Havers and Lord Michael Dobbs later.
Dame Joanna Lumley helped Brandreth host the event and was joined by many other stars of stage and screen. Among them were actors Sir Derek Jacobi, 83, Sir Tom Courtenay, 85, Susan Hampshire, 85, model Twiggy, 72, Felicity Kendal, 75, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, Sir Michael Morpurgo, 78.
Other stars there included DJs Tony Blackburn and Paul Gambaccini, comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, television news anchor Sir Trevor McDonald and Lucia Santa Cruz, the Chilean historian who introduced Prince Charles to Camilla back in 1971.
To laughter, Brandreth told the guests: “You sweetly thought you were here because of who you are. You are here because of how old you are.”
Brandreth, 74, and Camilla became friends through their mutual love of poetry and, in addition to McGough’s poem, there was another treat for the Duchess. Dame Penelope Keith, 82, standing in for another dramatic dame, Maggie Smith, who had phoned in sick, read Camilla’s favourite childhood poem, Matilda by Hilaire Belloc.
There was a tribute too from Lord (Rowan) Williams, 72, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who compared her admiringly to the warrior Queen Camilla from Virgil’s poem The Aeneid.
Opera singer Sir Willard White, 75, led guests in a rendition of Happy Birthday before a surprise for Camilla: her son, Tom Parker Bowles and his daughter, Lola, 15, Camilla’s eldest grandchild, wheeled in an Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate truffle birthday cake that was taken later to be shared with Chelsea Pensioners.
The cake was decorated with symbols of Camilla’s life, including her coat of arms, her Jack Russells, Bluebell and Beth, her racing colours, and her beloved books.
“She is asking why she wasn’t told,” Brandreth confided to the other guests. “We wanted the grandchildren to actually pop out of the cake but they declined.”