The first time I went to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, I was utterly terrified.
Without ever having been introduced, I’d been told to be outside Her Majesty’s bedroom at precisely one minute to nine in the morning, ready to perform the most intimate of services.
By reputation, I’m the UK’s leading boobologist, you see. Or to put it more formally, in July 1982, I became the official corsetiere to the Queen.
That meant using the Palace’s tradesman’s entrance, from which you walk for ten to 15 minutes through a vast and shabby basement.
June Kenton (left) is the UK’s leading ‘boobologist’ and in July 1982, became the official corsetiere to the Queen
You go past the kitchens and workrooms, through the floristry area and finally, after what seems like miles of corridors, into the lift that goes to the Queen’s private apartments.
I’d imagined her visitors’ room would be full of gilt frames and gorgeous furniture. Instead there was a jumble of mismatched bits and pieces.
It looked like an old-fashioned dentist’s waiting room. At 9am precisely, Miss Margaret McDonald — the Queen’s dresser and former nanny — ushered me into the royal bedroom.
At the same moment, a piper started playing outside — a tradition that began with Queen Victoria — and the sky darkened.
Suddenly there was an enormous thunderclap. Her Majesty calmly flicked on the main light switch, looked out of her window and said she hoped it wouldn’t rain as she had 8,000 people coming for tea.
Eight thousand! All I could think was that if I were her, I’d be busy cutting sandwiches rather than bothering with a bra fitting. However, even the grandest ladies in the land need to be well-supported.
Her Majesty’s thoughts were obviously elsewhere as she ordered the dogs be brought in from outside and only then did we settle down to the business in hand.
During her first bra fitting with June the Queen said she hoped it wouldn’t rain as she had 8,000 people coming for tea
Pipe Major MacRae’s bagpipes were still droning on when I finally retraced my steps to the tradesman’s entrance. I was in a dream.
Who could have predicted that I, June Kenton, a little Jewish lady who used to sell clothes on a market stall, would one day be fitting the monarch for a made-to-measure Rigby & Peller bra?
Or that I’d get to know the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret — and even become good friends with Princess Diana?
My long journey to Buckingham Palace began when I left school at 16 to train to be a corset fitter.
After getting engaged to Harold Kenton, a lovely man who worked as a sales rep, I started selling clothes in Brixton Market — and doing a roaring trade in candlewick dressing-gowns at 19s 11d (99p).
June started selling clothes in Brixton Market before opening a shop in Croydon, which specialised in lingerie and swimwear
Another market stall followed, then we opened a shop in Croydon, South London, where we specialised in lingerie and swimwear, offering women proper fittings.
Contour, as we called it, did so well that Harold and I started renting a small, shabby store at the back of Harrods.
Then, in 1982, we had a phone call that changed everything. Tessa Seidon, who owned the last made-to-measure corsetry company in Britain, wanted to know if we were interested in taking it over.
Rigby & Peller had been going since the Thirties, but it was struggling. The only selling point, in fact, was that the business had a Royal Warrant and had been providing corsetry to the Queen for 22 years.
Was it worth the £20,000 we paid? Harold was dubious. But I was thrilled to discover drawers full of ancient lace and beribboned corsetry. (Several items went to the V & A Museum.)
We inherited four seamstresses, who made all the bespoke underwear for some generously endowed country ladies — many of them Ladies with a capital L — and for the aristocratic creme de la creme.
Diana ordered swimsuits by Gottex, the Israeli designer, which June recognised in photos of her last fateful yachting trip with Dodi Fayed
Harold was worried that a few of our brilliant fitters didn’t speak well enough for our more upmarket clients. So he found a wonderful woman to come into the shop one evening a week to teach the girls how to speak the Queen’s English.
Far from being upset, everyone thought the elocution classes were fun. More important, the lessons gave the women a new level of confidence. For Royalty, I always did the fittings. One of our most loyal customers was Princess Margaret, who never wore lingerie or swimwear that wasn’t Rigby & Peller.
She often travelled to her Caribbean island home on Mustique, and was particularly fond of the boned Lollobrigida look (made famous by the Italian star Gina Lollobrigida) when it came to swimsuits.
I thought them old-fashioned and on one visit to Kensington Palace, I dared to bring along several lovely, Lycra swimsuits and cover-ups.
Princess Margaret wasn’t impressed. ‘I could not wear those,’ she sneered. ‘They’re synthetic.’
She only wore swimsuits in her preferred style and fabric, she said — none of that modern rubbish. I decided not to mention everything we made for her contained nylon.
The Princess, I must admit, was very aware of her status. So was the actress Joan Collins, though she always made me smile.
She’d stand by the door as if to say ‘I’m here!’ — and God help anyone who didn’t recognise her!
Another regular customer was the Queen Mother, who granted me a Royal Warrant in 1993. She was great fun. Once, commenting on an outfit she’d worn recently, I told her: ‘You look wonderful in lilac, Ma’am.’
She replied: ‘It was rather nice, wasn’t it? But I prefer myself in blue. When I’m in blue, and waving in the back of a car, people can see me so much better.’
One day, I was with the Queen when her hat-maker arrived and it was announced that Princess Margaret was on her way.
June met Princess Diana in 1994 and says the ‘never thought twice about coming to the shop’
The Queen Mother laughed and told me the Princess liked to interfere.
‘Shall I tell you what I do?’ she said, with a twinkle in her eye. ‘I pretend to listen to Margaret and then, once she has gone, I order what I want.’
I didn’t meet Princess Diana until 1994, when I was 59 and trying to get fit for a charity trek. It turned out we both went to a medical and sports rehabilitation clinic in Chiswick, West London, every Friday.
After several months of banter while we exercised, the Princess invited Harold and me to lunch at Kensington Palace, and we soon became friends.
Whenever we went to see her, she’d run down the stairs to meet us — and then we’d find bunches of flowers for us on our chairs.
This was when Diana was at odds with the Royal Family, and I think she liked people around her who weren’t part of her rarefied world.
I never met William or Harry — though she was always talking about them. I gave her posters of models in lingerie and swimwear for them to put up in their studies at Eton.
On the phone, and she’d ask me to tell her in detail what I’d been doing — even if it was putting in some bedding plants. When she needed new lingerie, she’d ring up and say: ‘I’m coming to headquarters — will you be there?’
Diana had an amazing figure. She ordered a few swimsuits by Gottex, the Israeli designer, and some cover-ups and beach bags to match. I recognised the swimsuits in photos of her on that last fateful yachting trip with Dodi Fayed.
When she died, I was heart- broken, but I cherish my memories of her. She was a genuinely warm person and never thought twice about coming to the shop.
Cherie Blair, on the other hand, insisted I attend to her at No 10. The only time Cherie came to us was the day before she and her husband Tony went to Buckingham Palace when he stepped down as PM. The police searched the shop before we did her fitting.
Comedian Jo Brand came in with ‘style gurus’ Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine to film an episode of their TV series, What Not To Wear. Jo definitely needed help, but wasn’t convinced she’d find a bra that fitted her, let alone one that was comfortable.
A short spell in the fitting room changed her mind — and she came back to buy £2,000-worth of gift vouchers for family and friends.
June is dead against cosmetic surgery and says years of experience in the fitting room have shown her why breast enhancements are a bad idea
Other customers included Mrs Thatcher, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett and Benny Hill. We didn’t get Benny and the two Ronnies into the fitting room — but we did provide them with specially made monster bras for their TV shows.
Mind you, plenty of men did want a personal service. Our solution was to open up to transvestites after hours, when they could have the shop to themselves.
Another male fan was fashion stylist Gok Wan, with whom I worked on the first series of How To Look Good Naked.
On screen, he would refer to me as ‘The Grande Dame of Underwear’ or the ‘Queen of Undies’, but to my face he called me his ‘second mum’ — a great honour because he adores his real mum.
Like me, he’s dead against liposuction and cosmetic surgery, and, after years of experience in the fitting room, I can tell you why breast enhancement is a bad idea.
Silicone implants are often solid and they don’t sit naturally in a bra — plus there are so many health risks if things go wrong.
Breast reduction, on the other hand, is a different story, because over-large breasts can cause back and shoulder problems.
I also felt passionately about encouraging women to examine their breasts regularly.
I once had a million swing tags printed with ‘Be breast aware’ on one side and instructions on what to look for on the other.
To launch our campaign, I asked the daughter of one customer if she’d model a range of bras with our ‘breast awareness’ tag. Sophie Dahl, an unknown 19-year-old with a 38DD bust, did it for free — and afterwards became a top model.
June’s other customers included Margaret Thatcher (pictured), Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett and Benny Hill
Just ten years later, in 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. You won’t be surprised to hear that I opted for immediate reconstruction, using my own tissue.
When I turned 75 and Harold was 80, we decided it was probably time to retire. So, in 2011, we sold most of our shares in Rigby & Peller to Van de Velde, a brilliant Belgian lingerie company, for £8 million. I still feel faint about that price-tag.
Sadly, it became clear a year later that Harold was suffering from dementia. I ache for one lucid moment with the man I adore, but I’m so grateful we can afford round-the-clock care at home.
And my relationship with the Queen? Well, there was a rocky moment when ITV did a documentary about Rigby & Peller.
The programme maker interviewed Sue Margolis, the seamstress who makes all the Queen’s lingerie, and asked her what she thought of the Royal Family.
Her reply? ‘They should have their heads chopped off because they’re a waste of money.’
If Her Majesty heard about this, it hasn’t affected our dealings. Sue Margolis still makes her lingerie. And to this day, at the age of 80, I still do all the Queen’s fittings.
Adapted from Storm In A D Cup by June Kenton (Briar House, £19.99). © June Kenton 2017. To order a copy for £6.74 (offer valid to March 18), visit mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.