Our conversation, however, kicks off, more surprisingly, with IVF. The Queen, herself a royal princess from Malaysia’s southerly Johor region, struggled to conceive after she married in 1986. ‘I had 16 rounds of IVF, and on the 17th I succeeded,’ she says defiantly. ‘I never thought I’d go on to have five more [children], including twins.’ When she launched her first cookbook at a charity dinner in 2005 – a grand gala evening in a museum, where she herself cooked on stage – proceeds went to the fertility fund she set up in 2004. ‘My foundation sponsors treatment for poor and middle-income couples,’ she explains. ‘I know how much it costs, and the emotional struggle people go through. You go for a treatment and you come home and cry.
‘We are Asian and we don’t share our problems,’ the Queen continues. ‘But I decided it was time we started talking about it, and doing something about it.’ That night she handed out treatments to five couples, and the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation has sponsored treatments ever since. ‘I did my babies, then I did my books, then other people’s babies,’ she says. ‘And then I did the textiles. Because,’ she grins broadly, ‘I can make things happen.’
How Queen Azizah got to be so thoroughly modern is probably down to her larger-than-life father, the late Sultan Iskandar of Johor, and her Cornish mother, born Josephine Ruby Trevorrow, to become Hajah Khalsom. The Sultan’s children were encouraged to cook and take part in daily life. ‘But he was a real character as well as a powerful ruler,’ says Leon Chong, a native of Malaysia who studied law at the University of Edinburgh, and is the project manager on the Craft Week programme. ‘The amount of power is partly related to the position of the region, and Johor is an important one: right at the bottom of the Malaysian peninsula, next to Singapore.’
Queen Azizah has brought up her own children in the same spirit. All were educated in England, at schools including Caldicott prep, Harrow and Sherborne, and universities Oxford Brookes and Royal Holloway, London. His Royal Highness Prince Regent of Pahang Hassanal, 26, who attended Sandhurst, is a dashing polo player and a keen conservationist (‘He’s very “Save the tigers”,’ says his mother, ‘he loves the jungle’), while the youngest is at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, and may well follow her mother into the textile trade. ‘One wants to be an accountant, one wants to join the police…’ she says of the others. ‘I just want them all to work, to be exposed to real life, to know what it’s like for other people.’