Few people realize how close the association and ties between the fruit growers of South Africa and the British Royal Family really is.
This is now being highlighted again by the funeral service for Prince Phillip which was conducted with so much dignity over the weekend in Windsor Castle. South Africans of all walks of life watch this ceremony on television, clearly also understanding that this is the end of an era.
To understand the special relationship between South African fruit and the Royal family one simply must look at the fact that South African fruit have been sold in Britain since 1892. Over the years many South Africans have followed their fruit to the UK. Fredo has been exposed to some special moments in the processes during which the fine produce from this country were placed on the most important dining tables in the United Kingdom.
A few years ago, Fredo wrote the story, in fact a full coffee table book, on the history of South African table grapes. From the start of the 1980s until the beginning of 2000 he also played a crucial part in communication, branding and developing marketing opportunities for South African fruit particularly in the UK and Europe but also in the Americas and in the East. Since then, he has been contributing to the Fruitnet Group, an international fresh produce publication group based in London with publications all over the world.
That coffee table book presented many lovely stories of interaction between people of the Cape and the Royal family and consumers in London and over the UK. One of the exceedingly early interesting anecdotes being told is that of a certain table grape grower from Paarl by the name of George King. On one fine day early in the 1900s, George King sent a box of grapes to King George at Buckingham Palace. The caption simply read – “To King George of Buckingham Palace, from George King of Paarl. Enjoy!
King George responded with a truly kind letter which was kept by the King family of Paarl to this day.
Later, in 1931/32 the South African rugby team, called the Springboks, visited the United Kingdom. In those days’, the team had to travel on one of the mail ships and spent some three to four months away from home. They played around 30 matches, including test or international matches against the four home unions.
Pierre takes the Kong’s grapes
One of the team members was Pierre de Villiers, a young scrumhalf from Paarl. The team was invited to Buckingham Palace where they were entertained by the Royal family. Pierre somehow could not understand why one of the valets offered him only a few berries of grapes, which incidentally originate from Paarl. Back home Pierre would simply have walked into the vineyard and picked his own bunches of grapes – as many as he liked. Obviously, in London, these grapes were awfully expensive. Even the King, with his considerable financial means, could only afford to offer the Springboks a few bunches from which they were expected to cut off a few berries.
Our friend Pierre simply picked up the whole bunch and walked off to show his teammates. The valet almost fainted and rushed back to the kitchen to replenish his plate so that they can also offer other guests some grapes. For the rest of the evening, he avoided Pierre who gleefully munched on his bunch of grapes.
During the 1959/60 of the UK another famous South African player, Frik du Preez, was amongst the touring party when they visited Buckingham Palace. These visits had by then become a feature of alL tours and was greatly enjoyed by the players and the Royal family.
during this visit Frik, who did not have a great command of the English language, was asked by one young Royal why the South African players were so big. Mastering his best English, Frik stated – “We feed them on beans, human beans.” The young Royal simply backed away and rushed down the line to find another Springbok with whom he could communicate with more effectively. This left Frik and his mates having a good chuckle. A story which became a legend.
Market agents in London still to this day regularly sent some South African fruit from their clients back home do the Royal family.
Once, in 1994, Fredo was involved with the first international cultural exchange of the new Democratic South African. Fredo was involved in arranging of the Cape Town City Ballet to London. Part of this included meetings in Kensington Palace to plan for the attendance of the Duchess of Kent to the first performance at Sadlers Wells Theatre in London. Guests and members of the UK fruit trade who were invited that evening after the event attended a special dinner in the City of London to celebrate the New South Africa and the ties between Britain and the fruit export industry.
Somehow these close ties have survived almost 130 years of trade, two world wars and other battles on both sides of the ocean. We still play our rugby and cricket against each other and strongly support our teams – but we are also great friends which brings out the good that is in South Africans and in the people of the UK.
For us Prince Phillips’ burial on Saturday also again broad the end of an era closer to us – things will not be the same again!