Prince Charles and Camilla invite the Mail to Highgrove

Now THAT’S what one calls herd immunity! Prince Charles and Camilla invite the Mail to Highgrove to see how glorious elephant sculptures can make her late brother Mark Shand’s last wishes come true

  • Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have five life-sized model elephants in the gardens of Highgrove
  • They have welcomed the unusual additions to the Gloucestershire estate in memory of Camilla’s late brother 
  • The five stunning sculptures, made by artisans in the jungles of southern India, are part of a 125-strong herd

Not every day do you see a herd of elephants migrating through the Cotswolds. Particularly in the gardens of the Prince of Wales’s beloved country home, Highgrove. And yet here they are.

Five life-sized – and utterly glorious – model pachyderms being greeted by Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, on a glorious autumnal morning as they gingerly navigate the future king’s prized wildflower meadow.

They have welcomed the unusual additions to the Gloucestershire estate in memory of Camilla’s late brother, Mark Shand.

Not every day do you see a herd of elephants migrating through the Cotswolds. Particularly in the gardens of the Prince of Wales’s beloved country home, Highgrove. And yet here they are

They have welcomed the unusual additions to the Gloucestershire estate in memory of Camilla’s late brother, Mark Shand

The stunning elephant sculptures, made by artisans in the jungles of southern India, are part of a 125-strong herd which had been due to be exhibited in aid of Elephant Family across London’s Royal Parks this summer

Mark was an adventurer, conservationist, travel writer, lover of women and free spirit who led a truly fascinating life until his tragic death six years ago.

He was also passionate about his work preserving the endangered Asian elephant and founded a charity, Elephant Family, of which Charles and Camilla are joint royal patrons.

They are now bringing to fruition CoExistence, an environmental art campaign Mark dreamed up with trustee Ruth Ganesh a decade ago, but was sadly never able to realise.

Their stunning elephant sculptures, made by artisans in the jungles of southern India, are part of a 125-strong herd which had been due to be exhibited in aid of Elephant Family across London’s Royal Parks this summer.

Instead, having made the 5,200-mile journey to Britain by lorry and boat at the beginning of the year, these exotic beasts found themselves locked down due to the pandemic.

Mark was an adventurer, conservationist, travel writer, lover of women and free spirit who led a truly fascinating life until his tragic death six years ago

So Camilla, 73, took it upon herself to personally write dozens of letters to family and friends, asking them to temporarily adopt an elephant – or five – until they can finally be exhibited next summer.

The duchess still finds it hard to believe that she won’t ever hear her adored younger brother’s throaty tones again.

‘He used to call me ‘Camills’,’ she told the Daily Mail in an exclusive interview on Monday. ‘The phone would ring, and I always knew it was him as I’d hear my name: ‘Camills, please can you help with the elephants?’

Charles, who wasn’t scheduled to join her, makes an unexpected appearance. He knows how much this means to his wife and is keen to ensure the elephants are placed just so.

Charles, who wasn’t scheduled to join her, makes an unexpected appearance. He knows how much this means to his wife and is keen to ensure the elephants are placed just so

He’s sporting a much-loved and well-worn (in fact it appears almost threadbare in places) full-length embroidered coat given to him in Pakistan, which he habitually wears when walking around his estate. Although its existence is fabled, it’s never been seen in public before. It’s sweetly eccentric and makes you realise how relaxed he feels here.

The prince chats enthusiastically about how the elephants, which were five years in the making, have been fashioned from Lantana camara, a horribly invasive weed introduced to India as an ornamental by British tea planters in the 19th century, but which is now choking the protected forests of Asia.

Conflict between humans and wildlife for food and space claims the lives of one person and one elephant in India on average every day. ‘That’s why it is even more important that we have to raise funds now,’ says Camilla.

‘They were doing so well with these ‘elephant corridors’ (which let the animals wander without coming into contact with villagers) and had a good scheme about rehousing the people. Then along comes Covid and everything comes to a grinding halt. It is so important now that we keep this going.

‘If everything goes on being as crowded as it is, the elephants will have nothing to eat. You have got to sort it out for the people, the habitat and the elephants. Everything works together.’ 

I remark that she reminds me of her husband, who has been urging man to work in harmony with nature, not against it, for decades, despite public derision at times.

‘Everyone said he was talking nonsense,’ the duchess says. ‘He has been going on about it for 40 years and look, it’s almost too late now. That is the frightening thing.

‘Covid hasn’t helped. What happens to all the PPE? The masks? People putting stuff in plastic wrapping again. It is a terrible worry.

Lady Bathurst, the chatelaine of Cirencester Park, also has five elephants on public display, as does Lord Rothschild, whose herd will be part of the ‘winter walk’ at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. ‘It’s going to be very hard to see them go next spring,’ says Lady Bathurst

‘But on a positive note, wherever my brother is, I am sure he is praying these beautiful creatures will make a lot of money for the charity. And look at them. How could you resist?’

They are now bringing to fruition CoExistence, an environmental art campaign Mark dreamed up with trustee Ruth Ganesh (pictured) a decade ago, but was sadly never able to realise

Her sister, Annabel Elliot, couldn’t. Mrs Elliot, who is also a trustee of Elephant Family, has three model elephants joining two large elephant topiaries that Mark gave her in a field at her Dorset home. Like Camilla, she also misses Mark desperately.

‘He lived here with me when he was in England,’ she says. 

‘What is nice now, though, is that his daughter, Ayesha, has become part of my family. She comes down here a lot and sleeps in Mark’s room, which is so nice.’ Mark received a fatal head injury when he tripped on a pavement in New York after a fundraiser for his charity.

Mrs Elliot adds: ‘Mark was always a traveller, off on another expedition. And what’s so ironic is that given all of the things he faced – being shipwrecked, being charged by animals – it was just falling down that killed him. It’s so strange, isn’t it?

‘This is a lovely tribute, though, and next summer, all being well, to have the whole herd in London will be amazing.’

Jilly Cooper would surely agree. The author, 83, has taken on two of Camilla’s elephants. ‘Aren’t they just glorious?’ she says proudly. 

Jilly explains she would meet Mark Shand – ‘such a handsome man’ – at the duchess’s house when Camilla was married to her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles. ‘I think my darling Mark must be so pleased,’ she says. 

Author Jilly Cooper, 83, has taken on two of Camilla’s elephants. ‘Aren’t they just glorious?’ she says proudly

‘He was so heavenly and didn’t care about himself at all. It was all about the elephants. He’ll be looking down, parting the clouds in heaven and smiling.’

Lady Bathurst, the chatelaine of Cirencester Park, also has five elephants on public display, as does Lord Rothschild, whose herd will be part of the ‘winter walk’ at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. 

‘It’s going to be very hard to see them go next spring,’ says Lady Bathurst. ‘But thankfully they will be travelling on to their next, wonderful elephant adventure.’

There’s no doubt, says Camilla, that her dear, much-missed brother, would have heartily approved.

To find out more, or how to adopt or purchase an elephant, please visit coexistencestory.org

For more details on Elephant Family, see elephant-family.org

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