Royal milliner

Born: April 5, 1925;

Died: February 20, 2018

EDINBURGH-born John Boyd, who has died aged 92, made hats – usually big, striking, memorable hats – for many members of the royal family including Princess Anne, Princess Diana and more recently the Duchess of Cambridge.

A milliner for 75 years, he was the first man to put fashionable hats on the head of Lady Diana Spencer, thereby helping her become the world's greatest fashion icon of the time. After her marriage to Prince William, Kate Middleton also turned to the Scot to help turn her image from the somewhat-staid to the avant-garde and globally influential. All of it was done from Mr Boyd's basement shop in London's Beauchamp Place, just round the corner from Harrod's.

Although she was born into British nobility, Lady Diana Spencer was not fond of hats, except for her favie woolly one against the chill of a London winter or skiing with her parents in the Alps. When she began dating Prince Charles however, her mother, Lady Frances Shand Kydd, decided to smarten her up. Lady Frances called in her own milliner, John Boyd, and the rest became history. It was Mr Boyd who provided Princess Di with the famous pink tricorn hat she wore on her way to her honeymoon. That hat has been copied by milliners all over the world ever since.

Mr Boyd, who was a milliner for 75 years, would visit the royals in their palaces when needed, although sometimes they would arrive at 16 Beauchamp Place incognito to slip down the stairs to his basements for fittings, including Princess Di.

When he started out, there were no less than 44 milliners in Beauchamp Place - it was known as milliner's row - but his shop was the last, although now still buoyant under his protegée Sarah Marshall, who has vowed to keep up his tradition. Ladies flock to the shop for big occasions such as Wimbledon, Royal Ascot or the Epsom Derby. If you go to Royal Ascot and you're not wearing a Boyd hat, well, fine, you'll be normal. Not special.

Boyd's hats were often big, very big with huge brims, but his basic principle was that the wearer, usually a woman, should wear the hat rather than the hat wear the woman. His hats were designed to be off the face of the wearer but very much in the face of the beholder. "The face dictates the hat," he often said. He also made trilby hats for men but ironically his female customers snapped them up and started a new trend. Bear in mind, he started off in post-war Britain, when rationing was still in force and most women were still wearing hand-me-down hats from their mothers.

John Richardson Boyd was born on April 5, 1925, in Edinburgh, youngest of seven children of John Boyd, a printer who lost his job during the Great Depression, and Janet (née Anderson) from the Scottish Highlands. He was most close to his eldest sister Jessie, a ballet dancer who would later work in his hat shop in London and whom he cared for her until her death in 2014 aged 104. He remembered as a boy helping her and her sisters prepare for dances, fiddling with their hair and dresses to make sure they looked their best.

After leaving school at the age of 15, he worked briefly for the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh, where fellow workers noticed that he spent most of his time sketching them or his surroundings. They recommended, like all working class Scotsmen to all working class Scotsmen, that he head south to the bright lights of London. He was planning to do so when war intervened.

He served in the Royal Navy and was aboard a minesweeper during the D-Day landings. The naval vessels were crucial to the success of the landings and his ship helped get the allied wounded back to hospitals in Britain. Like most of the servicemen and women involved, he never talked about those days until movies such as Saving Private Ryan triggered long-buried memories.

"I had the impression that it was very emotional and hard for him to talk about," says Sarah Marshall, who now runs his Knightsbridge millinery. "He did tell me that the boat he was on was next to another which was torpedoed and they rescued most of the men from the sea, but they couldn't rescue everyone which was an awful experience. He said he didn't have time to feel scared."

Before the war, aged 16, Boyd had moved south to London to begin an apprenticeship with the Danish-born Aage Thaarup, at the time the most famous milliner in the UK who would become official hatmaker for Queen Elizabeth II. One of his first clients was Lady Frances Shand Kydd. Another was a teenage Princess Anne, whose image he helped turn from a "horsey" to a fashion icon in her own right. She initially thought fancy women's hats were "square" - Sixties' jargon - until Boyd regaled her royal head with boaters, sombreros, London businessmen bowlers, and even a black Stetson.

Boyd opened his first London shop on Lowndes Street, where he used to sleep under his work table. He later moved to Walton Street behind Harrod's, then to the nearby Brompton Arcade and finally, in 1994, to the now-famous shop in Beauchamp Place where he continued to work until the age 90. "My first hat was literally thrown back at me by an outraged woman in Chelsea," he once said. "'You beast! she screamed. I'm looking for a new husband, not trying to get rid of one.'"

Some of Boyd's hats are now part of a permanent collection in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, not far from his shop, including a black and white, satin/silk creation echoing Audrey Hepburn's hat in the 1964 film My Fair Lady. He also diversified into another business, Pamela's, which sold second-hand designer dresses to women who could not afford the originals but, hey, who was going to know that? It became "a second-hand boutique for posh frocks" and tuned into the market of the not-quite-so-wealthy wannabes.

Boyd was named MBE in 2014 by the Queen for his services to the British fashion industry. He died at his home in Brighton, on the south coast of England where he once set sail for Normandy on D-Day. He never married and his siblings all predeceased him. He is survived by several nephews and nieces, to all of whom he remained close.