KATHRYN HUGHES

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - ART -

In her 65 years cir­cling the globe, the Queen has seen some funny things. There was the oc­ca­sion in 1961 when a lit­tle boy in Gam­bia pre­sented her with a baby croc­o­dile in a bis­cuit tin (it ended up at Lon­don Zoo). Or the time in 1970 when a pan­icky Aus­tralian man dropped a deep curt­sey to her. Or the mo­ment the wife of a lo­cal dig­ni­tary care­fully poured gravy into her wine glass.

The fact that the Queen kept a poker face through­out is down not just to her leg­endary self-con­trol, but also to her be­lief that some­thing im­por­tant, al­most sa­cred, un­der­pins the Bri­tish Crown’s en­coun­ters with the rest of the world. In this warm trib­ute to Her Majesty abroad, Robert Hard­man shows how Queen El­iz­a­beth II has worked as a diplo­mat, stateswoman and peace­maker to trans­form the dusty Bri­tish Em­pire into the Com­mon­wealth, a much-beloved mod­ern ‘fam­ily of na­tions’. Delv­ing deep into the Royal Ar­chives, the vet­eran re­porter has un­earthed a trea­sure trove of in­for­ma­tion, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s worst gaffes to the best way to deal with a vis­it­ing pres­i­dent at Buck­ing­ham Palace who may or may not be a war crim­i­nal.

Al­though Hard­man re­tains all the dis­creet good man­ners of a royal flunky, he’s not above pass­ing on a bit of gos­sip too. In a rare in­ter­view, An­drew Parker Bowles re­veals how in 1980, and al­ready mar­ried to Camilla, he

Robert Hard­man Cen­tury £25

was in charge of bach­e­lor Prince Charles’s visit to the newly in­de­pen­dent Zimbabwe. The lo­cals were de­ter­mined that the Prince would be filmed rid­ing a Cape buf­falo that they swore was tame. Like any good li­ai­son of­fi­cer, Lieu­tenant Colonel Parker Bowles in­sisted on try­ing out the an­i­mal for him­self, and was in­stantly thrown, spend­ing the next three days in hospi­tal. ‘I al­ways re­mind the Prince that if the buf­falo hadn’t gored me, and had gored him, things might be very dif­fer­ent these days,’ re­flects a rue­ful Parker Bowles.

Hard­man is quick to put paid to false ru­mours, though. Ac­cord­ing to hit TV drama The Crown, the young Queen El­iz­a­beth al­ways kept a jeal­ous eye on Jackie Kennedy’s glam­orous ap­pear­ance and tried hard to go one bet­ter. There’s even a scene that shows Amer­ica’s First Lady at Buck­ing­ham Palace in­ject­ing drugs to get through the evening while the Queen sulks fu­ri­ously at not be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. Noth­ing, says Hard­man, could be fur­ther from the truth. The Queen, it is clear, doesn’t have a diva-ish

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