Friday, 17 September 2021

Milliner to the PM-in-waiting

A MILLINER from Henley could soon have the honour of being hat-maker to the Prime Minister.

A MILLINER from Henley could soon have the honour of being hat-maker to the Prime Minister.

Liz Felix made the hat worn by Home Secretary Theresa May, the frontrunner to succeed David Cameron, at Henley Royal Regatta on Friday.

The Maidenhead MP bought the white hat, which has a rounded crown and downturned wide brim plus an orange silk flower, the previous weekend when visiting Mrs Felix’s Reading Road shop with her husband Philip.

It was not the first time that Mrs May had bought one of Mrs Felix’s creations, although last time the milliner didn’t recognise her famous customer.

In October she made a red sinamay and felt hat which Mrs May wore when she joined the Queen and Mr Cameron to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping during a state visit.

Mrs Felix said: “She came in with her husband and wanted a hat and she was very evasive about what she wanted it for.

“She tried on a number of blue hats and was unsure what she was going to wear. I suggested this red hat which had a felt crown which would give protection and warmth.

“She put it on and we all knew straight away that it was the one, it was fantastic. I didn’t realise at the time she was using it for that particular occasion. Red is lucky for the Chinese.

“She came in the following weekend to thank me for my help and to tell me what a huge amount of positive reaction she’d had to it, which was really nice to hear. I said, ‘thank you so much, that’s really kind of you’.

“Then her husband said to her, ‘are you going to tell her where you wore it?’ so I asked. I’d had a very busy week and hadn’t seen any television or a newspaper.

“She looked at me and said, ‘I wore it when I escorted the Queen and David Cameron to meet the Chinese president’, so I said ‘what was your role in the proceedings?’

“She replied, ‘I’m Theresa May, I’m the Home Secretary!’ at which point I covered my face with my hands and said, ‘my goodness, I knew I recognised you!’ I wasn’t thinking about who she was, I was thinking about how the hat was going to suit her. They both thought it was hilarious and burst out laughing.”

Mrs Felix, who lives in Reading, believes she may have made more hats for Mrs May without realising.

She said: “I did have a couple of ladies come in before that. They had been sent over from Maidenhead. They said, ‘you’ve been recommended to us’ and I said ‘who by?’ and they replied, ‘Theresa May’.”

Mrs May is known for her eye- catching footwear but before choosing her regatta headwear she tried on a number of other hats at the shop.

Mrs Felix said: “She popped a jacket on and I picked out a few hats for her to try on and they all looked lovely, apart from one which was an ‘alternative’ and I looked at her husband and just shook my head!

“For every client I always ask where they are wearing it and what they are wearing. We give everyone the same treatment regardless of who they are.

“We had a couple that looked lovely on her but she went for the one that I’d made myself with the lovely flower on the side of it. The flower was lovely and needed to be simple and elegant.

“She had quite a neutral outfit on and it was a flourish of colour. Her husband loved it and thought it was a good choice. I packed it up for her and off she went. I would describe it as a typical Audrey Hepburn hat. I was worried because on the Friday it was very windy and I hadn’t put extra elastic in it, so I thought it might blow off. All day I was worried about it.”

In fact, photographs of Mrs May at the regatta appeared on the front pages of national newspapers the next day.

Mrs Felix said: “It’s quite exciting, but also quite daunting, because it’s that scrutiny of other people looking at something you have made and the pressure to get it right.”

Now she hopes Mrs May will return, especially if she wins the contest to be the next Conservative Party leader and moves into 10 Downing Street.

“She’s a very nice lady and I think she would make a great Prime Minister,” said Mrs Felix.

Mrs May’s regatta hat was made from sinamay, a fine banana straw, and took about four hours to make.

Mrs Felix used a hat block to shape the fabric before adding edging and ribbon and sewing the crown and brim together. The hat was then sized before the silk flower was sewn on.

She said: “My hats tend to sell quickly because they’re unique and people don’t like to look like everyone else.

“Mrs May is keeping it local and supporting an independent sole trader who does it for the love, not the money.”

The minister returned to the shop on Saturday to have the extra elastic added.

Mrs Felix said: “Her husband came in and we were just chatting and he said, ‘have you seen the papers? She’s in all the papers’. She was on a very long, important call.”

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