All the excitement of a royal wedding is in the air since the announcement of an engagement between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle. Here SARAH SINGLETON meets Pat Clark, a former seamstress at Norman Hartnell’s who worked on Harry's grandmother, Elizabeth II’s coronation gown

THE design of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress was a subject of such intense interest, couturier Norman Hartnell blacked out the windows and teenage seamstress Pat Baldwin had to dodge reporters eager to winkle out a story.

Now Pat Clark, happily married for 60 years and living in Covingham, Swindon, she still has a keen eye for fashion and dress-making and has made a dozen wedding dresses for family and friends, as well as glamorous outfits for ballroom dancing.

But she remembers clearly the time she worked at Hartnell’s and they were all sworn to secrecy when it came to the design for the Queen’s coronation gown – and were not even allowed to tell family members.

“Everybody contributed something to the making of that dress. Before it was sent to the palace, the dress was put on a stand and we were all allowed to see it. I think it was beautiful,” she recalled.

Pat was born in in Dagenham, Essex and describes herself as a proper Essex Cockney – her mother reported she could literally hear the sound of Bow bells as baby Pat was being born.

At 15 years of age, Pat left school and went for an interview at Norman Hartnell’s, who was by then enjoying a stellar career as a fashion designer and couturier for members of the Royal Family. He had premises in a large Mayfair town house, with floors of workrooms at the rear on Bruton Mews.

Hartnell’s designs had clothed aristocrats and film stars such as Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor, and from 1935 he had received royal commands to clothe the ladies of the Royal Family.

He made the wedding dress of the then Princess Elizabeth when she married Prince Philip, and in 1952 was commanded to design the 1953 dress for the coronation.

Pat’s father took her to the interview and she remembered what clinched the job.

“They asked me a few questions, then took my hands. They were cold,” she said. “That was what did it. You need cold hands, because if they are sweaty that will get on the clothes.”

She had always wanted to work in the industry, having done some sewing in school, but of course she had to start at the bottom in the hierarchy of the workshop. Her first role was collecting pins.

“Each one had to be cleaned before it was used again,” she said. Later she moved on to tracing, and later worked on a grey satin evening dress trimmed with ermine. Her supervisor was a French woman with painstaking standards – but Pat’s work on the dress impressed her.

“She could not find any fault in it,” Pat recalled. “I was made a hand and given an assistant.”

Each member of the Royal Family had a dress stand made to their measurements, and while Pat said she contributed to many dresses worn by the Royals, one bright yellow day-dress sticks in her memory because of its vivid tone.

“It was such a lovely colour,” she said.

One day the Queen Mother visited the workrooms at Hartnell’s to meet the people making her clothes.

“She was lovely, she spoke to everybody,” Pat said.

Pat met her husband-to-be Bernard when she was just 16 – after he spotted her across a Dagenham street, though they did not marry till she was 20. She designed and made her own wedding dress, with a bustle at the back. She worked at Hartnell’s for about eight years, before decided it was time to move on.

The couple moved to Swindon in 1967, and had a son, Paul. Pat worked for Swindon children’s clothes maker Rob Roy, making baby coats by hand from home.

The couple were also keen dancers and went out dancing several times a week, and Pat made their dancing outfits.

Although Pat can no longer sew because of arthritis, she still enjoys following fashion and said she loved Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

“It was beautiful – really lovely,” she said.

And with Christmas approaching, she remembered making special designer Christmas cards for Norman Hartnell, which he sent to his personal friends.

“All the staff had to make them, out of fabric, every year. They were beautiful – a lot of work.”

Some of those cards still survive and can be bought from specialist auctions – a small piece of fashion history.

Like the rest of the country Pat will be looking forward to seeing Meghan's wedding dress when she and Prince Harry marry in the spring and speculation is already rife abut various designers from VIctoria Beckham to Alexander McQueen.