By Royal Appointment

Monday, 29 May 2017

I got a message from a friend's parents yesterday to tell me that there was a programme on ITV 3 that they thought I might like. The programme was By Royal Appointment, and it was on ITV 3 just this weekend. I have only met my friend's dad once, but our conversation had been an interesting one because it turns out he had worked for the Royal Protection department of the Metropolitan police, so naturally after I had had my fill of whatever royal gossip he was (discreetly) prepared to spill (ie not as much as I would like), the conversation turned to the work my stepfather Douglas had done for the police. We worked out, for example, that my friend's dad would have worn police uniform buckles made by my stepfather (and maybe polished by me!) in the 1990s, and we discussed his designs for police armour and boots for police dogs.

Douglas, however, didn't just make buckles for the police, and this is where the TV show comes in. One of the calls I made to announce his death was to John Lobb Ltd, a company that handmakes shoes, including for the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. Douglas hand-crafted buckles to order for John Lobb for so many years that neither John nor I could work out when he had started, or how, although when I suggested that perhaps Douglas had just walked in off the street and talked the manager into giving him work, we agreed that that was probably what had happened! Douglas used to make their standard buckle, but also bespoke commissions, including, for example, extra-long spurs for a rich Texan customer, each order packaged and sent off to London to be fixed to the shoes. 

I took a shoe-mad friend to visit John Lobb's shop a few years ago to learn more about them, and you can get a glimpse of their amazing cellar workshop when you get about 25 minutes into the TV programme. Shelves of lasts, thousands and thousands of wooden models of individual feet, line the walls, each one adapted as the customer's feet change over time, bits shaved here, bunions added there. We saw lasts for various members of royalty, as well as for J Sainsbury and Frank Sinatra amongst others. Each pair of shoes takes several months to make, as each individual piece of leather or fabric is cut, shaped and left to set before the next piece is added. They have a range of standard shoes in their catalogue, but they will also make whatever shoe you want to fit your feet exactly, so they will happily work from pictures in magazines, for example, to make that latest Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik style fit you personally. Both of us left the shop determined that one day we would each have saved up the money to have at least one pair of shoes made for us, although perhaps not their most expensive crocodile skin shoes, which come in at just under £12,000 a pair... 

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