Sorry, Harry, Cressie’s not so blue blooded after all!
... in fact, her great grandad was a failed butcher from Battersea
WITH her wide-eyed blonde good looks and aristocratic demeanour, she looks oven-ready to become our next princess. And no doubt the reunion with Prince Harry when they return from their separate travels this week will be as passionate as that clinch on the ski slopes of Verbier.
The Cressida Bonas story may well end on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. But, as I can reveal, it started in far humbler circumstances.
The idea that Harry’s latest squeeze is uncontestably top- drawer — as people have been quick to point out in their determination to get them married off — is wide of the mark.
Certainly, Cressida’s fabled mother, the former lady Mary-Gaye Curzon, comes from the right side of the tracks, with a family history which stretches back a thousand years. But what about her father’s people?
The Bonas family — or Bonass, as they were once unfortunately known — aren’t quite such bluebloods. In fact there’s nothing faintly aristocratic about them at all.
Butchers, grocers, factory workers they were to a man — and even Cressida’s dad used to run a factory making elastic for ladies’ tights.
Indeed, just like the former Kate Middleton with her coal-miner antecedents, Cressida’s mongrel ancestry makes her a far more fascinating partner for the third in line to the throne than if she were a 24-carat aristo.
Her story starts in the dusty back-streets of Battersea, South london, a century ago. Two brothers from the Midlands, Joe and George Bonas, ran a butcher’s shop and general grocery store there, on Plough Road.
But such was the poverty of this workingclass area, which backed on to shunting yards and lay in the shadow of a sugar factory, it was almost impossible to make ends meet.
The brothers worked hard, but in the end the younger George headed back to the Midlands family home.
By the time he arrived as a penniless ex-butcher hoping to scrape a living at any job he could find, King Edward VII was on the throne and bestriding the Empire.
In India, Edward’s Viceroy was Marquess Curzon, possibly the snootiest aristocrat ever to don a coronet. Neither man would dream of recognising such a hopeless and forgotten figure as George — yet all three had something in common. Their descendants would one day be seen smooching on the ski slopes of Verbier and the talk would be of another magnificent royal wedding.
Edward VII was Prince Harry’s great-great-great grandfather. Curzon was an ancestor to Cressida on her mother’s side through her great-great-grandfather the Earl
He had to scrape a living at any job he could find
Howe. And impoverished George Bonas would be Cressida’s great-grandfather.
George’s story was one of escape from suffocating small-town life, followed by the hardship of trying to make a living, the onset of disillusion, and the forlorn and humiliating return to his homeland.
For a time his elder brother Joe clung on in Battersea — but in those top-hatted Edwardian days there was no place in polite society for people with the name of Bonas, and eventually he too headed back to set up a butcher’s shop in Coventry.
Both boys had grown up in their father’s grocery store in Church Street, Bedworth, near Nuneaton, and were sent out to work at the age of ten. The journey south and sorry return home had taken a decade out of both their lives — but it did nothing to stem George’s determination to succeed. He applied for a job at the Derby tape-manufacturing factory owned by his uncle Joseph, and eventually he qualified as a tape-weaver.
Tape-weaving at the time was an essential part of the industrial machinery of England, providing the nation with everything from bootlaces to wicks for candles, from webbing to elastic.
George’s determination paid off, and eventually he was able to open his own factory in Castle Gresley, 17 miles away in Derbyshire. His wife Alice gave him a son, Harry — Cressida’s grandfather — who was to carry on the business. King George V was now on the throne — and George and Harry Bonas were struggling to make their cacophonous, messy factory pay its way. The family had yet to acquire any kind of social polish.
They managed to keep the factory going, though. When George died in 1949 he left £40,759 — £1.2 million in today’s money — but the family was still living in a suburban road in Burton-on-Trent, home to a dozen breweries and a far cry from the shaved lawns of Ascot and the muted drawing-room conversation of Windsor Castle. The family’s journey of upward mobility was moving at a snail’s pace.
It was Harry who made the family fortune. Business increased under his direction, and he moved from modest accommodation to Stanton Manor near Burton, then to a bigger pile, Grangewood Hall.
The factory boss and his wife Winnie had learned the art of noblesse oblige, opening up their house once a year to the workforce for a staff garden party.
‘At the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, we were all given a smart boxed souvenir,’ recalls one exemployee. ‘They looked after their people. They were lovely.’
Harry, son of a butcher, had nearly arrived — all he had to do was send the three sons to Harrow and Oxford. Winnie, meanwhile, became a magistrate and collected an OBE. The transformation from working class to upper-crust had taken just three generations.
However, even to this day nobody quite knows what Cressida’s mother Mary-Gaye Curzon saw in Harry’s second son, Jeffrey. A contemporary from Oxford remembers: ‘He was an old Harrovian smoothie — quite tall, quite good-looking, but frankly nobody would have thought he could land someone like Mary-Gaye.
‘In the Sixties and early Seventies she was the goddess of her generation — the looks, the breeding, the name, she had the lot. Marrying her, I’d say he was punching above his weight.’
An apt analogy, since Jeffrey earned a boxing blue Oxford.
But not everybody thought he was comfortable in his skin — the Daily Mail’s late diarist Nigel Dempster said Bonas was described as having ‘a massive chip on his shoulder, despite his private education’.
In contrast, Mary- Gaye’s antecedents could not have been more glittering. The Curzons pre-dated
Her father’s firm made elastic for women’s tights
William the Conqueror — they were ineffably grand. The great Viceroy the Marquess Curzon was so stately he had a rhyming couplet penned to him while still at Oxford: My name is George Nathaniel Curzon, I am a most superior person. My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek, I dine at Blenheim twice a week.
What can Jeffrey have felt about marrying into such a family? His grandfather had been a grocer’s boy who went to work at the age of 10, while by comparison his wife’s grandfather had been a peer of the realm who’d been decorated for action in the trenches in World War I.
Ironically, Jeffrey’s grandfather George would have had the chance to vote for Mary-Gaye’s grandfather Viscount Curzon when he became MP for Battersea South in 1918.
But the two never met, and even if they had, could never have shared a drawing-room or sloped off to George’s local, the Essex Arms.
Social mobility was still a long way off — it would take the best part of a century for the families of a godson of the King and a failed butcher to find very much in common.
But in the end, they did. So should Prince Harry become even more involved with Cressida, what would the couple have to show each other of their collective inheritance?
Harry, of course, has palaces galore and countless riches. But all that remains of Cressida’s patrimony is a pile of bricks alongside the A444 at Castle Gresley.
It once used to be the Bonas Brothers factory, but the business went bust in the Eighties. Its last hurrah was a line of goods branded Magic Touch, which included elastic for ladies’ tights.
This was a desperate attempt to save the business, but memories are long in this corner of Derbyshire, and some blame Cressida’s father, Jeffrey, for the collapse of the company with a loss of 100 jobs.
‘Jeffrey let the business down,’ says a former employee. ‘All there is left is a pile of rubble.’
In the autumn of his years Jeffrey Bonas devotes himself to good causes, as his website, ‘Jeffrey Bonas — entrepreneur, businessman, historian’, proudly states.
Much has been made of his glittering ex-wife’s marital adventures. The Sixties IT girl and Cressida’s mother has had five children by three husbands and been divorced four times. The fourth husband Christopher Shaw, with whom she moved in while still married to Jeffrey, once said in a speech apparently in praise of his wife: ‘Mary- Gaye is a difficult wife, as many of you here know.’
let’s hope nobody ever says that of her daughter. Cressida faces an unenviable challenge if she feels she can marry Harry and brave the spotlight for the rest of her life.
She has the Curzon élan to carry it off, but it will be the hardy Bonas backbone — stiffened in the shops and factories of working- class Britain — which will sustain her through the years.
Mixed family fortunes: Royal girlfriend Cressida Bonas