House of Windsor

A local Anglophile dedicates his abode to Her Majesty’s service—amassing a collection worthy of the crown.
Choir director Andrew Lannerd collects royal items, memories, and contacts—and has parlayed his expertise into a company offering escorted tours of the U.K.

God may save the queen, but Andrew Lannerd keeps her cake. A hard, brown, 68-year-old cube soaked in brandy with marzipan icing, the dessert is wrapped in wax lace and protected in a white carton much like a large matchbox. Embossed “EP” (Elizabeth and Phillip), it sits under glass, in a cabinet with five more boxes and tins containing a brick of similar fruitcakes. A silver tin bordered in gold came from William and Kate’s reception.

“It did have a smell to it,” says Lannerd, delicately handling his newest piece of royal wedding cake, acquired three years ago. The rest have hardened but not rotted—even the chunk from Queen Elizabeth II’s marriage in 1947. Of course, Lannerd would never take a nibble. Such would be poor taste, in more ways than one.

The genteel manager of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir isn’t a mere royal watcher or average collector of Windsor treasures, such as the boxed cakes—official wedding favors that often hit the resale market. He admits to being all-out obsessed with the royal family. It’s hard to deny, after all, when you chose a home because its high ceilings could accommodate regal banners, and when your various passports contain a total of 32 stamps from trips to England to watch the highnesses walk from a car to a castle. Lannerd stands in the front of the crowd—he knows the ropes by now—and waits for the royals to approach. “Everyone wants the best photo,” he says of the “extremely competitive” group of fans hoping for a chance to neck-bow before one of the members of the monarchy. “Everyone wants to give the queen flowers.” The ultimate goal: a handshake with the queen. The meetings happen more than you would imagine. “Security isn’t bad,” says Lannerd, who claims Prince Charles once spotted him hanging around at the end of a public appearance and said, “You’re still here.”

There is a lot of downtime on these stakeouts, and Lannerd has spent it making connections. Royal authors, Buckingham Palace staffers, fellow groupies. The London newspapers have covered him—he’s the rare American, he says, who follows the queen’s published schedule and shows up regularly to see her in person. English friends have given him inside lines on collectibles from the palace, such as a photo album the queen gifted to an employee. “My best friend in London is Ian Shapiro,” Lannerd says of the noted English historian, a specialist in royal memorabilia. “If Sotheby’s or Christie’s gets anything [connected to the royals], they call him.” Lannerd has toured private wings of the palace. Someone on the inside evidently makes sure Prince Charles’s wife, Camilla, reads his letters and anniversary cards to the couple. Polite signed responses are framed on Lannerd’s wall. “She doesn’t do that for everyone,” he says.

But those are nothing compared to the framed photo and invitation hanging above a loveseat. The image shows Lannerd, in a tux, talking to the queen at her 80th birthday celebration, an intimate garden party. Notable, he says, is the fact that she isn’t wearing a hat. By the time he got face-
to-face with the guest of honor, she said she was tired of birthday wishes. “Well, okay,” she told him. “But you’re the last one.”

Lannerd still hopes for an invitation to the queen’s 90th birthday party this month, but he has plans to return to England this year, regardless. Three years ago, he launched a company called Transcendent Travel, offering guided itineraries to English estates. The venture draws on his experience as stage manager for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which involved handling the logistics for about 200 performances each year. His current job managing the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir lets him travel around the group’s schedule. The trips with Transcendent aren’t royal stalks, but his connections come through with special privileges now and then. This July’s trip includes dinner on Queen Elizabeth’s private yacht. Once, a group had champagne at the Royal Gardens at Highgrove, Prince Charles’s estate (they didn’t spot him).

Usually, though, Lannerd flies solo and goes to extremes for personal interactions, however brief. On the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, he knew the royal family would attend a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. He got tickets from the King James Bible Trust. And because this wasn’t his “first time at the rodeo,” he arrived early enough to stand at the head of the security line. The usher who took Lannerd’s ticket escorted him to the very front. He couldn’t believe his luck. “I thought I was going to be moved at any second for VIPs,” he says. Then trumpets sounded, and in walked the royal family, headed his way. After they sat down, Lannerd was close enough to see the queen search for her glasses in her handbag and Prince Charles fiddle with his cuff links. To sit near the royals in Westminster for a ceremony marking such a historical occasion? And to watch them do something as ordinary as digging into a purse? “That’s as good as it gets,” he says.

Lannerd’s fascination dates back to Princess Diana’s death, in 1997. He was a stamp-collecting teenager in Central Indiana who had recently acquired that year’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip anniversary set. When the princess died, Lannerd was captivated by the global outpouring of affection. “They’re living history to me,” he says of the Windsors. But despite the formalities, he has the impression that the royals are rather regular. “They don’t want you to fall over them. Their people want that, but they want to put you at ease.”

His collector’s penchant has evolved into a serious hobby. He searches online every day and hunts backrooms of antiques stores in England. Once, he discovered a piece of silk from King George VI’s coronation in 1937, left in a store for 30 years, and snagged it for around 120 pounds. He owns more than 700 books on the family (Royal Fever, released last year, mentions him), dozens of busts, a chair used when Prince Charles was “created” as Prince of Wales, a 1952 “proclamation” poster from Gibraltar announcing Elizabeth II as the new monarch, and a photo of Charles and Diana signed by both (which makes it rare). But his most cherished belongings are those closely related to the queen, his favorite: playing cards, official palace dinner menus, even a lightbulb from her coronation, all marked with her “ER” cypher, or insignia. A former pilot on the queen’s plane sold him glassware. He has even acquired tags on presents she has given (“she uses little gift tags like we do”). On his wish list? The queen’s gloves. Those would take the cake.