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Dinner at Clarence House

The prank was not only sweeping in its scope but also meticulously researched and planned, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2007 00:25 IST

We all play pranks but last month I was the target of a breathtaking practical joke. It wasn’t simply sweeping in its scope but also meticulously researched and planned. Yet the amazing thing is I haven’t the faintest idea who did it. He or she may have wanted to fool me — and might have partly succeeded — but shows no inclination of revealing their identity.

It began with the following email:
“Dear Mr Thapar, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall has asked me to invite you to a Dinner Party at Clarence House on 3 January 2008. Her Royal Highness and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales are looking forward to having you with them. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will also be dining with Their Royal Highnesses. It is a black tie evening. If you would be so kind as to send me your address, I will post you an invitation card. You are expected at Clarence House at 19:15 hours, for drinks in the Blue Drawing Room. Their Royal Highnesses will receive you in the Imperial Room, where the Prime Minister will be joining their other guests. Dinner will be served at 20:00 hours. I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
Robert Smedley-Smith, OBE,
Comptroller to The Household of
Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall”.

The letter, I was sure, was a prank. Clarence House doesn’t use googlemail and such invitations aren’t sent by email. But why was it copied to Richard Stagg, the British High Commissioner? The email given for him was correct.

I replied: “Thank you for your letter of Saturday, 3 November. Forgive me for what might be a silly question but is this a joke? I don’t believe that invitations from the Duchess of Cornwall are usually sent by email and that too from a googlemail ID. I may well be wrong — and if I am I apologise — but I thought I should start by asking if this is a genuine letter or an elaborate hoax.

I’m marking a copy of my reply to Mr Stagg who, as it happens, knows me and perhaps he or you might send me a quick reply to confirm that this invitation is genuine. As it so happens, I’m likely to be in London on the 3rd of January and would be delighted to attend.
I await your reply.”

Within 24 hours I received two further letters. The first was from Richard Stagg. His simply said:
“ Dear Karan, I’m just off to London and will check (you may well hear in the meantime). Best wishes, Dickie.”

The other was from Smedley-Smith:

“I do apologise for the confusion. There have been some problems with the Royal Mail, which is why you have not received the invitation from Clarence House. Another invitation was dispatched on Friday by HM Diplomatic Bag to Dan Chugg at the British High Commission in New Delhi. You should receive it by Monday afternoon.”

This time the letter was not copied to the High Commissioner. But I discovered Dan Chugg does exist at the High Commission. He’s Head of Press. And the Royal Mail has been playing up. So, now, was the invitation genuine?

I replied: “Thank you for your letter. I also have a similar one from Richard Stagg who, in addition, tells me he’s leaving for London and will double check and get back. I look forward to receiving the invitation you have sent by the Diplomatic Bag to Dan Chugg at the British High Commission.”

Three days later I received a call from the High Commissioner’s secretary. She’d established that Robert Smedley-Smith doesn’t exist. The whole correspondence was fraudulent. And although I’ve waited for more letters they’ve stopped.

I doubt if I’ll ever get a real invitation to dine with British royalty, but I wish I knew who to thank for this one or, at least, congratulate. Meanwhile, be warned if you receive similar letters. You could be the next victim!