The night the Queen boogied to Rock Around the Clock with Elton John… and many more royally entertaining nuggets about her you never knew, revealed by IAN LLOYD
On the flight home from Africa after the sudden death of the Queen’s father, a message from the Queen Mother was received by the BOAC captain, entered into the log book, then copied out by hand on to a signal form, before being shown to Elizabeth.
Thought to be the first time she was addressed as Her Majesty in writing, it read:
To: Her Majesty The Queen
All my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Elizabeth II is the only British monarch to have been born in a private house. Number 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London, is today the home of Hakkasan, a Cantonese restaurant
- On a midweek afternoon in January, the Queen can be found sitting around a card table in a village hall pouring tea for three other women of a certain age. She’s there as the President of the Sandringham branch of the Women’s Institute (WI) and the first meeting of the year is one of the annual fixtures on her calendar.
In 2019 Alexander Armstrong, presenter of the TV quiz Pointless, visited the Sandringham branch and hosted a game based on his show. Her Majesty captained one of the teams, which won three out of five games.
Armstrong later said the Queen had ‘some deft, silky Pointless skills’. She is, he claimed, ‘our most distinguished viewer’.
Another guest speaker at the Sandringham WI was celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh. A few months later the Queen presented him with his MBE, and commented: ‘You’ve given a lot of ladies a lot of pleasure,’ which he’s often said he’d like on his gravestone.
Elizabeth II is the only British monarch to have been born in a private house. Number 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London, is today the home of Hakkasan, a Cantonese restaurant.
- King George was very hands-on with his children, taking part in bath time with the girls and in pillow fights in their bedrooms. He also arranged for Elizabeth to have lessons in constitutional history from the vice provost of Eton, Henry Marten, a bashful and eccentric figure who nervously addressed the Princess as ‘gentlemen’, the usual way he addressed a classroom of boys.
- At the 21st birthday bash the Queen hosted for Prince Andrew at Windsor Castle, Elton John was among the guests. Princess Anne asked him to dance, and they were awkwardly shuffling from one foot to the other when the Queen came over. ‘May we join you?’ she asked and joined in the slow-shoe shuffle to Rock Around The Clock. All the time she still had her black handbag over her arm.
- Elizabeth and Philip first met on a royal visit to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in July 1939. While their parents attended chapel, the 18-year-old cadet Philip was sent to entertain the Princesses, aged 13 and 9. He played trains with them, sipped lemonade and ate ginger crackers, then suggested to nanny Miss Crawford that they all go to the tennis courts ‘and have some real fun jumping the nets’. Crawfie felt ‘he showed off a good deal’, but Elizabeth enthused: ‘How good he is, Crawfie. How high he can jump!’
- For most of her life, the Queen has prayed by kneeling at her bedside with her hands folded.
- At a lunch at Buckingham Palace, one of the corgis misbehaved and the Queen snapped, ‘Heather!’ in its direction, much to the alarm of the opera singer Heather Harper, who was sitting next to Prince Philip.
- Elizabeth II has been known to bop to Abba’s Dancing Queen during dress fittings with her fun-loving personal assistant, Angela Kelly.
- After her split from Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret spent the rest of the 1950s at Clarence House, increasingly frustrated as her friends married. She took out her frustration on her mother, once throwing a book at her head. PM Harold Macmillan was once in a private audience with the Queen when Margaret stormed in wearing a dressing gown and said: ‘No one would talk to you if you were not the Queen!’
- In 1939 the Princesses were sent to Birkhall for safety. With no central heating, the girls woke to find their drinking water frozen solid and their sponges rock hard, which, according to Crawfie, ‘delighted them immensely’. That Christmas, they went shopping for presents at Woolworths in Aberdeen, buying sixpenny (about £1.70 in today’s money) china ornaments and brooches for their parents.
- In 1946 John Dean, valet to Lord Mountbatten, began to suspect a royal engagement was in the pipeline. Whenever Philip came to stay, Dean would unpack the guest’s weekend bag: ‘I always found a small photograph in a battered frame — a photograph of Princess Elizabeth.’
- A royal page once found a scribbled note on the Queen’s bedside table asking him to fit one of the new energy-saving lightbulbs, adding, ‘but only when this one blows’.
- The Queen’s famous frugality runs in the family. Her Great-Aunt Alice used to travel by bus and, for her annual vacation, crossed the Atlantic in a banana boat. When the Queen visited Aunt Alice in her sickbed in October 1980, shortly before the old lady’s death, she was told: ‘Turn off the heater as you go out. We only put it on because you were coming.’ The monarch duly bent down and unplugged the fire.
- For over six decades, the Queen’s right-hand member of staff Bobo brought her morning tea in her room. The one exception was on Bobo’s birthday, when the monarch brought a cup of tea to her much-loved friend.
During her marriage to Prince Charles, Princess Diana took to calling on the Queen unannounced to pour out her heart to her. Sometimes, the Queen’s schedule meant the Princess had to wait. One footman later reported to the Queen: ‘The Princess cried three times in a half hour while waiting to see you.’
The Queen replied, ‘I had her for half an hour and she cried non-stop.’
During her marriage to Prince Charles, Princess Diana took to calling on the Queen unannounced to pour out her heart to her
- Margaret Thatcher was scrupulously deferential to the Queen. ‘Her curtsey almost reached Australia,’ recalled her policy adviser, Charles Powell. She did try to bond with the monarch — once sending her a pair of rubber gloves upon seeing her wash the dishes after a Balmoral picnic without using any.
- In 1957, the Queen was nervous before the recording of her first televised Christmas speech. To put her at ease, Philip told her to ‘Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth’ — a reference to his chasing her along the train corridors during a trip to Canada in 1951 wearing huge false fangs.
- The Queen Mother was once partnered with a young subaltern at a dance at Windsor when she was called to the telephone. When she returned he was nowhere to be seen, so her equerry found her another partner. As she glided round the room she noticed her first partner dancing with the Queen so, steering her own subaltern towards them, she tapped the young man on the shoulder and whispered in his ear: ‘Snob!’
- Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was invited to a lunch at Buckingham Palace and found himself sitting next to the Queen. ‘I was excited and started to talk to her, but she said — pointing to my left — “No, you speak that way first, and I’ll speak this way and then I’ll come back to you.” ’ When they did get to speak: ‘We talked about how she spends her weekends, houses and music.’ He added, ‘She’s really cool.’
Tommy Cooper was a particular favourite of the Queen. During one backstage meet-and-greet he asked her: ‘Will you be going to the Cup Final next year?’ The Queen replied: ‘No I don’t think I am.’ To which Cooper quipped: ‘Well, can I have your tickets?’
- The team of dressers working for the Queen’s PA, Angela Kelly, have first dibs on her cast-off clothes. ‘When she finally tires of [an item of clothing], she will hand it to one of her dressers, who can either wear it or sell it.’ Any labels or anything that might suggest it belongs to the Queen must be removed first. ‘One frock found its way to a jumble sale near Sandringham,’ says author Brian Hoey, ‘but in spite of its obvious quality, it failed to sell.’
After her split from Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret spent the rest of the 1950s at Clarence House, increasingly frustrated as her friends married. he took out her frustration on her mother, once throwing a book at her head
- Since the decommissioning of the Royal Yacht Britannia, if HM wanted to cruise around the isles, she had to hire the Hebridean Princess, a converted car ferry. In 2006, they moored by the Isle of Gigha off the west coast of Kintyre. The Queen wanted to see the island so Princess Anne cycled to the newsagents to see if there was a way her mother could be transported around. The owner, Russell Town, offered to drive them in his Peugeot people carrier.
- ‘She was a real chatterbox,’ said the newsagent, ‘and started asking me lots of questions about my family. When I saw my daughter at the side of the road and pointed her out, the Queen waved at her.’
- She has sat for over 130 portraits. When sitting for Italian painter Pietro Annigoni, he wished she would, in the nicest way, keep quiet. Asked by a journalist if she talked while he worked, he answered: ‘Well yes, perhaps too much.’ Word must have got back to her, because their final four sittings were held in awkward silence.
Rearing homing pigeons has always been a passion for the Queen. On the day of his funeral, the Queen’s birds took part in a fly-past in a winged tribute to Prince Philip.
- The Royal Variety Performance is an annual commitment, but the Queen doesn’t always recognise the performers. The producers of the 1991 show paid £72,000 to fly Diana Ross over to headline and the diva dominated the whole of the second half. As she walked downstairs to meet the performers, the Queen said: ‘I thought the girl singer did very well.’
‘She was a real chatterbox,’ said the newsagent, ‘and started asking me lots of questions about my family. When I saw my daughter at the side of the road and pointed her out, the Queen waved at her.’
- Walking with her protection officer Richard Griffin at Balmoral, the Queen was dressed in her country casuals of a headscarf and tweed coat. When a group of American tourists asked her if she’d ever met the Queen, the monarch replied: ‘No, but he has,’ pointing at the police officer.
- When the Queen met the author Hammond Innes at a literary party, the conversation turned for some reason to police helmets. Innes, taken aback, said: ‘How would you know about them, Ma’am?’ To which the Queen replied: ‘I knocked one off on VE Day.’
- The Queen was a fan of the risqué humour of Sir Donald Gosling, the founder of National Car Parks (NCP). He once told her a naughty joke involving a horse trainer giving Viagra to a runner in the 2.30 at Newton Abbot. The Defence Minister hurriedly interjected to stop the punchline. But Her Majesty berated the minister and got Sir Don to repeat the joke, complete with the ending, which had something to do with winning against stiff competition.
Adapted from The Queen: 70 Chapters In The Life Of Elizabeth II by Ian Lloyd, published by The History Press on April 21 at £15.99. © Ian Lloyd 2022. To order a copy for £14.39 (offer valid to April 30; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.