The Daily Telegraph
NEVER OFF DUTY: A PUBLIC LIFE
Always cool, calm and collected, Queen Elizabeth II kept her emotions in check. But a smile was never far away.
In seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II was duty personified. But, while never putting a foot wrong, there were moments when she clearly had a whale of a time. You knew it when she suddenly broke out in that broad, somehow innocent smile.
Her first meeting with Winston Churchill as Queen Elizabeth was understandably sombre. It was on February 7, 1952, as she stepped down, in mourning black, from the plane at London Airport, the day after her dear father George VI’S death. Churchill, Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden were there to greet her on the tarmac. But, after that sad day, the meetings between Churchill (born 1874) and Queen Elizabeth, more than 50 years his junior, were suffused with joy.
Roy Jenkins said Churchill had “near idolatry” for his young monarch. And, in 1955, when Churchill ended his last term as prime minister, Queen Elizabeth wrote that no other PM would “ever for me be able to hold the place of my first prime minister, to whom both my husband and I owe so much and for whose wise guidance during the early years of my reign I shall always be so profoundly grateful”.
The late Queen’s constitutional role was always of utmost importance to her. That doesn’t mean she always enjoyed political events – her demeanour at the State Opening of Parliament every year was respectful, rather than joyous. But she clearly enjoyed visiting David Cameron and Nick Clegg at Downing Street in 2012. She sat in on a Cabinet meeting – the first monarch to do so for over a century.
She also enjoyed a good tease of some of her more earnest prime ministers. At a G7 meeting of world leaders in 1991, Edward Heath, the pompous former prime minister, was filmed showing off about how brave he had been in going to Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. Queen Elizabeth exclaimed with a laugh, “But you’re expendable!”
The late Queen was not as keen on showbiz as her sister, Princess Margaret, who adored singing and was a friend of Peter Sellers and Noël Coward. But still, there were moments when she got into the swing of things in the Swinging Sixties. In November 1963, Queen Elizabeth first met the Beatles at the Royal Variety Performance. The band played From Me to You and She Loves You. Then John Lennon delivered his famous lines: “The people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands… And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewellery.” It went down well with Queen Elizabeth. In 1965, she gave all the Beatles the MBE, only for Lennon to return the honour in 1969 over Britain’s involvement in the Nigerian Civil War and its support of American forces in Vietnam. Paul Mccartney and Ringo Starr went on to be knighted.
She had another dazzling showbiz moment in 2012 at the Olympic Games in London. There, she appeared to jump out of a helicopter to parachute into the opening ceremony. The scene in fact used a stuntman. But she did graciously agree to film a segment with Daniel Craig as James Bond in Buckingham Palace, producing a major wow factor. Queen Elizabeth herself suggested she must do a speaking part – it was only appropriate, she said, because 007 had come to rescue her. And so she was heard to say, “Good evening, Mr Bond.”
She did a similar favour for her grandson Prince Harry, in 2016, when she sat with him in a video call with Barack and Michelle Obama promoting his Invictus Games.
HAPPY WITH HER HORSES
Racing was a sweet spot for the late Queen, when public duties combined with her love of the turf. She particularly enjoyed the Derby at Epsom and Royal Ascot – and, whenever she turned up at any racecourse, there was a great roar of approval. She had more than 1,800 winners in her lifetime and won every British classic – the 2,000 Guineas, the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger – apart from the Derby.
In 1974, Queen Elizabeth said, “My philosophy about racing is simple. I enjoy breeding a horse that is faster than other people’s. And, to me, that is a gamble from a long way back.” Her biggest day at the races – when her smile was at its broadest – came in 2013, when she became the first reigning monarch to win the Gold Cup at Ascot in its 207-year history. She wore lilac to match the colours of her horse Estimate, which soared from behind to win. How she smiled, from ear to ear.
HER STRENGTH AND STAY
The strange nature of Queen Elizabeth’s job meant that, unlike with most of us, much of her work was carried out alongside her family – a great bonus at some of the more arduous events she attended. At the 1999 New Year’s Eve gathering, she looked less than happy to be at the Millennium Dome, when she was forced to link hands with Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time. Thank God she had the consolation of her husband, Prince Philip.
Again and again, it was Prince Philip who could make her laugh. And, in 1997, on their golden wedding anniversary, she thanked him in public in a speech at the Banqueting House. She declared, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”
With her understanding of decorum, the late Queen rarely let her emotional guard down, but there were occasional public glimpses of the happiness she enjoyed in the company of her family. The most intimate filmed glimpse of her was in Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen, a 1992 BBC documentary. There, you saw a relaxed Queen Elizabeth dancing at the Ghillies Ball at Balmoral, joyfully doing Scottish reels with Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne. Despite her jolly demeanour, she kept up standards, wearing her tiara with utter composure as she whirled round and round the dance floor. Also in that documentary, you saw her affection towards her grandchildren, as she took Prince William, Zara Phillips and Princess Beatrice, then a toddler, on a hack round the Balmoral estate.
On military occasions, Queen Elizabeth combined her duty to her Armed Forces with the great pleasure she felt in their company. Ever since 1945, when she learnt to drive after joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as a subaltern, she was devoted to the Armed Forces. Prince Philip served with distinction in the Royal Navy. Prince Andrew fought in the Falklands War. And Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry (who saw action in Afghanistan) were all active members of the Armed Forces. In 2006, Queen Elizabeth’s personal and public attachment to the Armed Forces were united when she watched Prince William at his Sandhurst passing-out parade as he joined the Household Cavalry’s Blues and Royals. She grinned the broadest of grins and Prince William, despite being on parade, couldn’t resist a smile as his proud granny chatted to him.
The late Queen felt a comparable pride in and love for the Commonwealth. In 2015, she said, “I feel enormously proud of what the Commonwealth has achieved, and all of it within my lifetime.” As she declared, beaming with pride, at Buckingham Palace in 2018, before the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the Commonwealth is “one of the world’s great convening powers”. She went on to recall, “Here at Buckingham Palace in 1949, my father met the Heads of Government when they ratified the London Declaration, which created the Commonwealth as we know it today – then comprising just eight nations.
“Who then – or in 1952, when I became Head of the Commonwealth – would have guessed that a gathering of its member states would one day number 53, or that it would comprise 2.4 billion people?”
Queen Elizabeth loved it when Commonwealth business took her abroad, particularly when it involved trips on her beloved yacht, Britannia, in service from 1954 until 1997. Britannia allowed the late Queen to travel on important public business but also to retreat from the glare of the world’s attention. She so loved the yacht that she was said to have shed a tear at its 1997 decommissioning. Usually, though, Britannia brought laughter. One of the most celebrated pictures of Queen Elizabeth was taken in 1972 by her cousin, the photographer Lord Lichfield. Lichfield had been invited on a voyage to take photographs to mark the late Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s silver wedding anniversary. During the trip, he was soaped and ducked in the pool in a ceremony to celebrate crossing the equator. Lichfield said, “I did have the wit to take a waterproof camera with me and when I came up for about the third time, I took a picture of the Queen up on the bridge laughing at me.”
It is a rare insight into a world that most of us never saw – of the most famous woman in the world at ease with her family, laughing her head off. What a delight that she could, on occasion, shake off the heavy responsibilities she bore on her shoulders so magnificently.