TOP DOGS:

the Queen’s four-legged com­pan­ions

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

When his­to­ri­ans look back over the long reign of Queen El­iz­a­beth II, they will mar­vel, not that she had so many dogs … but at her loy­alty to a sin­gle breed. Since the age of seven, El­iz­a­beth has not been with­out the com­pan­ion­ship of a Pem­broke Welsh corgi. In April 2018, she lost Wil­low, the last of her own cor­gis. She was said to have been hit “ex­tremely hard” by the dog’s death. As a Palace source was quoted say­ing, “It is prob­a­bly be­cause Wil­low was the last link to her par­ents and a pas­time that goes back to her own child­hood.”

Grad­u­ally, and in­ten­tion­ally, the Queen has been whit­tling down the num­ber of dogs she has. She was con­cerned about what would hap­pen to her dogs when she is no longer around. Her chil­dren all have dogs of their own and, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of the Princess Royal [Princess Anne] there are no great lovers of cor­gis.

Over the years, the Queen’s lit­tle dogs have trav­elled with her by car, boat, he­li­copter, plane and train; they have an­nounced her ar­rival in any room­ful of people; and they have put count­less guests, in­clud­ing the en­tire New Zealand rugby team, at their ease.

She has used the dogs not just to put oth­ers at their ease, but to ease her own dis­com­fort. Her fam­ily refers to it as “the dog mech­a­nism”. If there is an awk­ward lull, she will turn her at­ten­tion to one of the dogs to fill the si­lence, or bend down to give them tit­bits from her plate at the ta­ble.

It all be­gan in 1933 when Princess El­iz­a­beth and her lit­tle sis­ter, Mar­garet Rose, fell in love with a neigh­bour’s young corgi. Their father was then Duke of York, and they lived in a grand, five-storey Ge­or­gian town house at

145 Pic­cadilly.

And so it was that Mrs Thelma

Gray came into the Queen’s life. She was one of the first people to breed cor­gis out­side Wales.

She ar­rived with three young red and white pup­pies for the York fam­ily to choose from. Two of the lit­ter were tail­less, and the third had a tiny stump of a tail.

It was the Duchess of York, Princess El­iz­a­beth’s mother, who de­cided which of the three they would keep. “We must have the one which has some­thing to wag,” she said. “Oth­er­wise, how are we go­ing to know whether he is pleased or not?”

The tiny stump of a tail be­longed to Roza­vel Golden Ea­gle, bet­ter known as Dookie. The nick­name came from the ken­nel maids. He was so pleased with him­self that he was re­fus­ing to eat from the same dish as his sib­lings. And so they started to call him “The Duke” and even­tu­ally Dookie.

On Princess El­iz­a­beth’s 18th birth­day on 21 April 1944, her father gave her a corgi of her very own. The dog had the of­fi­cial name Hickathrift Pippa but she was known first as Sue, and fi­nally as Su­san.

Ev­ery corgi that the Queen has had in her very long life can be traced back to Su­san … and Wil­low, the corgi who died in April 2018, was the 14th gen­er­a­tion of Su­san’s de­scen­dants.

Su­san was not much bet­ter tem­pered than Dookie – and nor were her off­spring. In June 1954, Al­fred Edge, a 23-year-old Na­tional Ser­vice­man in the Gre­nadier Guards, was on sen­try duty out­side Buck­ing­ham Palace. A foot­man came round the cor­ner with a cou­ple of cor­gis on leads. Su­san was one of them. Edge spot­ted his re­lief ap­proach­ing and stood to at­ten­tion with a loud mil­i­tary stamp, where­upon a star­tled Su­san sank her teeth into his left an­kle.

In 1955 Su­san’s daugh­ter, Su­gar, was sent off to Thelma’s ken­nels to be mated. In due course, Thelma took the lit­ter to Wind­sor to show them to the Queen.

Charles and Anne were with the Queen when she met the pup­pies and although she had ev­ery in­ten­tion of keep­ing just one, she could not make up her mind. “Don’t tell your father we’ve got two pup­pies. Two new pup­pies!” She named them Whisky and Sherry, and gave them as Christ­mas presents to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Princess Mar­garet never truly caught the corgi bug. But the dog she most fa­mously owned was a smooth-coated minia­ture dachs­hund called Pip­kin.

Ver­ti­cally chal­lenged though he may have been, Pip­kin was not put off by taller women: one fine day in the late 1960s, he and the Queen’s corgi, Tiny, had an il­licit mo­ment to­gether be­hind the shrub­bery … and a new cross­breed was born.

The Queen and Princess Mar­garet called their cre­ation “dor­gis”. It was the be­gin­ning of a new royal era. When royal pho­tog­ra­pher Nor­man Parkin­son once asked the Queen how the cor­gis and dachshunds were able to mate, given their rather dif­fer­ent heights, she replied: “It’s very simple. We have a lit­tle brick.”

The Queen’s dogs do not eat out of shiny ster­ling sil­ver dishes – the Queen is noth­ing if not prac­ti­cal; their bowls are a mot­ley col­lec­tion of metal and porce­lain.

When­ever pos­si­ble, she feeds them her­self and it is an af­ter­noon rit­ual; but not an un­ruly fran­tic free-for-all. A foot­man brings the food and the bowls on a sil­ver tray and lays out a plas­tic sheet to pro­tect the car­pet. The Queen then sits them in a semi-cir­cle around her and does the rest.

In ad­di­tion, the dogs get tit­bits from the Queen’s own plate at meal­times – toast at break­fast, scones in the af­ter­noon and chicken, fish or what­ever else she is eat­ing at lunch and sup­per. They clus­ter around the ta­ble, even when she has guests, and at­tend all the best par­ties.

They are not only an im­me­di­ate and easy topic of con­ver­sa­tion, they are in­valu­able at help­ing vis­i­tors, who can be com­pletely and some­times ir­ra­tionally tongue-tied on meeting the sov­er­eign, to relax.

One such per­son was David Nott, a saint of a sur­geon from Wales, who for two months vol­un­teers his ex­per­tise in con­flict surgery in the world’s most dan­ger­ous war zones. The day he went to lunch with the Queen he had just come back from Aleppo, cen­tre of the fiercest fight­ing in the Syr­ian civil war.

When she turned to talk to him he could not speak. “I was think­ing about the day when seven chil­dren from one fam­ily were brought into the hos­pi­tal,” he told Frances Hardy in the Daily Mail. “Their mother was dead and one of her sons had his but­tocks blown off. He was still alive and he had white blobs on his face. These were his sis­ter’s brains. It was the most piti­ful sight I’d seen in 20 years op­er­at­ing in war zones.

“When the Queen turned to me and said, ‘I hear you’ve just been in Aleppo,’ I could feel my bot­tom lip quiv­er­ing. I couldn’t say a word. There’s no doubt I was suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress. All I could do was stare long and hard at the wall.

“She re­alised some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong and said she’d try to help me. Then she started talk­ing about her dogs and asked if I’d like to see them. I said I would. I was try­ing not to cry, to hold it all to­gether, and sud­denly a courtier ap­peared with the cor­gis, who went un­der the ta­ble. Then a sil­ver tin with a screw-top lid la­belled ‘dog bis­cuits’ was brought to the ta­ble. The Queen opened it, broke a bis­cuit in two and gave half to me, and she said, ‘Why don’t we feed the dogs?’

“The hu­man­ity of what she did was un­be­liev­able. She was re­ally so kind to me. And af­ter­wards when ev­ery­one asked what I’d done at the palace they couldn’t be­lieve what I told them. She was so warm and so won­der­ful I will never for­get it.”

The Queen atRoyal Wind­sor Horse Show in 1973 with her faith­ful and con­stant four-legged com­pan­ions.

Clockwise from above: The Queen and Queen Mother on her birth­day with her cor­gis out­side Clarence House; Princess El­iz­a­beth aged 11 years old with her corgi, Dookie, as Tatler cover stars; the Royal Fam­ily in 1937 as a happy group of dog lovers.

Above, left: The Queen Mother’s cor­gis ar­riv­ing at Heathrow air­port af­ter a summer visit to Bal­moral. Above, right: The Queen’s cor­gis were present when she met mem­bers of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team at Buck­ing­ham Palace in 2002.

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