Published: 00:01, 09 November 2015
Ever dreamed of tea and cake with a princess?
A seemingly unlikely residence for royalty, a small corner of the Kent countryside is in fact home to Princess Olga Romanoff, daughter of Prince Andrew Romanoff who was the eldest nephew of the murdered Tsar Nicholas II – the last emperor of Russia.
Stepping inside Provender House, tucked away in the village of Norton just off the rush of the A2, is like climbing into a time machine, and the princess is now inviting you inside.
Olga, 65, will be leading an amble through the vast and spectacular 13th century property, teaching visitors about her family tree and the rich history of the 30-room home… followed by a cuppa in front of an enchanting Tudor fireplace.
Her family tree is brimming with enthralling stories, but it is dotted with tragedy as well.
Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children were massacred in 1918, bringing a brutal end to the royal dynasty in Russia.
Olga’s family were first associated with Provender House in 1890 and her grandmother, Sylvia McDougall, bought it in 1912 for her mother who was living there as a tenant.
Everything about this house is dripping in extravagance and every painting, ornament or piece of furniture has a story to tell – one of the many black and white photographs depicts the Grand Duchess Xenia and Princess Irina Yusopov, wife of Prince Felix Yusopov, who is believed to have killed the famous Rasputin.
Another picture in the drawing room shows Maria Feodorovna, an empress of Russia and Olga’s great-grandmother, sitting next to her sister, Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII (Queen Victoria’s son).
But something about Olga is remarkably different from her ancestors pictured adorned in their jewels and expensive clothing. She is a modern, modest princess, driving an unassuming Volkswagen Golf, enjoying cooking and walking her dogs and would rather spend an afternoon in Faversham than in London or abroad.
The grandmother-of-three told us: “I visit London a few times a year for a charity event, a party or to see my children for dinner, but I would much rather be in the countryside.
“I like the smell of the horses and having hay in my hair.”
Born in London, Olga moved to Provender House when she was just a week old and was home-schooled there, before moving between the city, Scotland and Kent before settling in permanently after the death of her mother in 2000.
At that time, the house was in need of some serious repair and nurture. Olga took the project under her wing with the help of grants from English Heritage. The building has now been removed from the organisation’s at risk register.
In 2003, Ptolemy Dean, often known as the Queen’s architect and the surveyor of the fabric of Westminster Abbey, led the complete renovation of Provender House, unmasking yet more of its fascinating architecture and even more history was unleashed. Five centuries of style and construction are now on show.
A new roof was erected, new windows were installed, gullies built to stop flooding which was gradually decaying the house and it has steadily been renovated to its former beauty but still maintaining its historical charm.
Everywhere you look there is something you didn’t notice before – silk wallpaper from the early 20th century hangs delicately in the reception and the wooden crown posts towering above the immeasurable rooms.
Olga only uses about 10 of the 30 rooms but she says the five bedrooms are just not enough for her growing family.
She has a cleaner who comes in every week, a gardener every fortnight and once featured on Channel 4’s You Can’t Get The Staff where Olga was looking for domestic workers to maintain the house.
She said: “It’s hard to look after. When you come to the end, you have to start again. There is a lot to do.
“I have quite a normal life here at Provender, but I don’t know anything different from being a princess.
“It’s all I’ve known. I was a princess from birth.
“As hard as it is to maintain, I would never leave this house now.”
The house is open by appointment from May to October but this is the first year for winter tours and tea.
Tours and tea, for a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 12, can be booked at www.provenderhouse.co.uk for £25 per person.
More by this authorBess Browning