A £25,000 black diamond and ruby poppy lent to classical singer Katherine Jenkins was stolen from a handbag yesterday just hours before she was due to sing for the Queen.
Mezzo-soprano Miss Jenkins was said to be 'angry and very distressed' by the loss of the brooch ahead of last night's British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.
The poppy, which is mounted in gold, was crafted by Royal jewellers Garrard to mark Remembrance Day. It was bought by a mystery collector on Thursday at the Legion's annual Poppy Ball on the understanding that it would be worn first by forces sweetheart Miss Jenkins at Saturday's concert.
For safekeeping, it was then entrusted into the care of one of the charity's junior women employees, who took it to a remembrance service in Trafalgar Square on Friday.
The young woman then stayed at a Central London hotel and locked the poppy in her room safe.
Yesterday morning she placed the brooch in her handbag and began making her way across London to the Albert Hall.
She had been instructed to hand it to 32-year-old Miss Jenkins – who has sung for British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq – in time for rehearsals.
But finding herself with an hour to spare, the administrative assistant stopped at another hotel for a coffee. It was then that the thief stole her bag.
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'It all happened very quickly,' admitted a Royal British Legion spokesman, who said police were immediately informed. The bag was later found nearby, with only the brooch missing.
'The thief didn't take anything apart from the brooch which makes us think that she may have been targeted,' added the spokesman.
'The woman is mortified. Katherine had been excitedly looking forward to wearing it.'
He added: 'We are hoping that the thief will realise that something valuable has been taken away from the nation, something that was supposed to help injured servicemen.
Stolen: The £25,000 poppy brooch was crafted by Royal jewellers Garrard
'Perhaps this person's conscience will be pricked. If not, this person should realise that it will be difficult to sell the brooch.'
Garrard chief executive Eric Deardorff told The Mail on Sunday: 'This amazing piece of jewellery was specifically designed in partnership with the Poppy Ball and the Royal British Legion.
'Its loss is devastating. It was intended to represent our support of the Legion's incredible work on behalf of the Armed Forces family and the recovery of injured personnel.'
Mr Deardorff promised that if necessary, Garrard will produce an exact duplicate so that the buyer will not lose out – an offer described by the Legion as 'extraordinarily generous'.
For Miss Jenkins, this year's concert was particularly poignant. Her TV presenter fiance, Gethin Jones, launched the Poppy Appeal and she herself appears in the appeal's nationwide poster campaign.
Hosted by Huw Edwards, last night's concert commemorated and honoured all those who have lost their lives in conflicts.
The Welsh singer was going to wear the jewel-encrusted poppy when she performed in front of the Queen
Sir Cliff Richard and Alfie Boe were on the bill with Miss Jenkins and the event also included a choir composed of military wives with husbands on active service in Afghanistan.
The Massed Bands of the Household Division and the bands of HM Royal Marines, the Royal Air Force and the Brigade of Gurkhas were also in the line-up.
And there was a traditional two-minute silence as poppy petals fell from the roof of the hall, each representing a life lost in war.
The brooch, an intricate hand-painted design, was 'meticulously crafted at the Garrard in-house workshop'.
In the auction catalogue it was described as: 'Poppy brooch in red and green translucent enamel, with pave set ruby and green garnet borders; mounted in 18ct yellow gold and the cluster of black diamonds in the centre in dark rhodium 18ct white gold.
'The reverse side engraved with the inscription "The Royal British Legion Poppy Ball 2011". Dimensions: poppy flower is 42mm (1.5in) diameter, and overall length to tip of leaf is 64mm (2.5in).'
The Legion spokesman added: 'Katherine is now desperately hoping that the brooch will not be lost forever.'
Miss Jenkins first came to public attention when she sang at Westminster Cathedral honouring Pope John Paul II's silver jubilee in October 2003 and then supported Aled Jones on tour.
She became involved with the British Legion when she launched the charity's poppy appeal at Covent Garden in 2005 while wearing a dress made of 2,500 poppies. In November 2007, Miss Jenkins was named classical performer of the year at the Variety Club Showbiz Awards.
Earlier this year she faced the prospect of tour dates in South America without her costumes after the ballgowns were left behind at Heathrow. The singer's flight from London to Buenos Aires had been cancelled so she got on a second jet, but her luggage was not loaded on.
She went on Twitter to complain: 'My poor dresses are sitting all by themselves somewhere in Heathrow.'
That incident ended happily, however, when her luggage turned up 30 hours later.
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