The Earl of Wessex arrived to open Barnet's new £14million arts centre on Tuesday afternoon, after insisting on driving himself through London in his sleek black Rover.

The Prince, a well-known supporter of the arts and former employee of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company, was shown around the artsdepot at Tally Ho Corner, North Finchley, where he watched a children's show and met staff.

He then performed the official opening ceremony by unveiling a plaque. He said: "It's always rather nice to be able to come along when something is so fresh and new and so fantastic.

"I hope the centre will prove to be a valuable resource, not just a centre for the community and all sorts of people, but certainly also for the arts and entertainment, which I feel are the same thing. If you are not moved by the art, then you have not been entertained, I think; entertainment is everything, not just cinema and things like that."

Praising the rather nice performing spaces' in the new theatre, which has a main stage, smaller stages and community rooms for workshops, the Prince congratulated director Alison Duthie, councillors and everyone else who was involved in the eight-year project to launch the centre.

Last week, the Prince's private secretary, Brigadier John Smedley, was engaged in a heated correspondence with Councillor Brian Coleman, who advised the Prince not to attend the opening.

Making an oblique reference to this in his speech, the Prince said: "I know this has been seen in slightly controversial terms, and undoubtedly you will still have comments about the outside of the building, but you have done so much on the inside, hopefully you will continue to change people's minds."

Likening himself to Tommy Cooper, and joking that he appeared to be doing a magician's trick as he whipped the curtain off the plaque, the Prince declared artsdepot open.

As well as an art centre, the development also includes a Marks & Spencer's store and luxury housing. The flats situated on top of the artsdepot have all been sold, at around £290,000 each for a two-bedroom flat, but 12 of the 16 penthouses remain unsold.

A spokeswoman for estate agents Becketts, which is selling the flats, said initial prices for penthouses ranged from £700,000 to £850,000, but these may change, she said, as they are released for sale in the run up to Christmas.