A veteran and former friend of the Queen Mother returned to her Scottish castle as it prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of being open to the public.
Major John Perkins, 95, formed the decades-long connection and dedication to The Castle of Mey through his friendship with the royal, and returned to the property to pass on his knowledge to the current generation of tour guides.
The Army veteran has insider stories of the Caithness-based castle he once worked in, and said: “It’s got a very, very special feel about it. Some houses, places like this, have not got that feel.
“The Castle of Mey when you walk in it says ‘welcome how nice to see you,’ and you feel as if you are indeed welcome.”
He traveled from his home near Shrewsbury, Shropshire, to be at the castle again, one he first went to in 1977.
Major Perkins served as a guide at the estate for around two decades, and has shared his unparalleled knowledge with countless visitors over the years.
The once-dilapidated Castle of Mey was bought by the Queen Mother in 1952, after the death of King George VI, and following its renovation, she holidayed at the castle for almost 50 years. Each August she presided over the Mey Games.
Former guide Major Perkins said one of the secrets of showing people around the castle was not to do it from a script.
“I’m very, very fortunate having known the place and having seen the whole castle, active and alive with Her Majesty and other guests,” he said, and shared a behind-the-scenes insight into its former life.
“The Queen Mother always had tea in the afternoon and what a tea. Having had lunch and then going to have dinner, you didn’t need really need anything, but she always had tea and she always used to make the tea herself.”
“The kettle was down on the floor, and she used to boil it, pour it into the tea pot, pour the tea out, and people thought as a Queen, she wouldn’t do that.
“But she said I like doing it because this is my home, and you are my guests, and my friends, and so she automatically did it. Which of course is typical of the lady, she was just quite extraordinary.”
And when he is back at the castle, just six miles from John O’Groats, his memories come alive once again.
“Even now, I wait to hear the corgis barking,” he said, and added when she left the sitting room in the morning the famous dogs would run ahead.
“I know it’s crazy to say, but when I’m in the drawing room I’m always like ‘where are the corgis?’, he said.
And the castle still has Royal connections. It’s now looked after by the Prince’s Foundation, based in Ayrshire, and Prince Charles, The Duke of Rothesay, visits the castle every year.
As his time giving tours, most recently on a voluntary basis, Major Perkins remembers his time working for the Royal household.
In the Queen Mother, he said, “you couldn’t have found a nicer person to work for”.
And on her daughter, he added: “She’s a very courageous lady, very courageous. And her mother would be absolutely delighted with how she’s come through it all.”
The castle and gardens are open from May 1 to September 30 every Wednesday to Sunday, but are closed from July 25 to August 10.
In 2019, Prince Charles officially opened a bed and breakfast based on the castle grounds.