One's BEST FRIENDS

Un­til re­cently, Her Majesty's corps of corgi comap­nions ac­com­pa­nied her ev­ery­where. With the pass­ing of the last in line ealier this year, their royal reign is at an end. Penny Junor Looks back on the doggy dy­nasty

The Mail on Sunday - You - - PALACEPETS -

Ihave just one dog. The Queen has had up to ten at times. My ad­mi­ra­tion for her as a dog han­dler knows no bounds, but even the best-trained dogs can mis­be­have – and our sov­er­eign has had dis­as­ters and heart­break along­side the friend­ship and fun.

Through her dogs I have dis­cov­ered an as­pect of the Queen that, de­spite more than 30 years of royal writ­ing, I have never seen be­fore. Off duty, she puts on com­fort­able clothes and im­merses her­self in the coun­try­side that she loves, with her dogs and horses. This is when she is at her hap­pi­est. Dogs and horses are her pas­sion and it is with them, and the peo­ple who share that pas­sion, that she truly re­laxes.

When his­to­ri­ans look back over her reign they will mar­vel at her loy­alty to a sin­gle breed. Be­fore the death of her last Pem­broke Welsh corgi in April (she still has two mixed-breed cor­gis), she had not been with­out the com­pan­ion­ship of these lit­tle dogs since the age of seven. Over the years they had trav­elled with her by car, boat, he­li­copter, plane and train; they had sat with her for pho­tographs and por­traits; an­nounced her ar­rival in any room­ful of peo­ple, and helped countless guests to re­lax. The Queen also used the dogs 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 the dogs to fill the si­lence or bend down to give them tit­bits from her plate at ta­ble. If the sit­u­a­tion be­comes too dif­fi­cult she will some­times walk away and take the dogs out.

On Princess Eliz­a­beth’s 18th birth­day her fa­ther gave her a corgi of her own – Su­san. Ev­ery corgi that the Queen has had can be traced back to this dog. Af­ter her mar­riage to Prince Philip in 1947, what the wav­ing crowds couldn’t see, as the cou­ple headed off for their hon­ey­moon, was that Su­san was snug­gled up in the car­riage be­side the Queen. The Duke of Ed­in­burgh has been vy­ing with the dogs for his wife’s at­ten­tion ever since.

Princess Mar­garet never had as many dogs as her sis­ter and mother, but per­haps the most fa­mous one was a dachs­hund called Pip­kin. De­spite be­ing ver­ti­cally chal­lenged, he was not put off by taller fe­males: one day in the late 1960s, he and the Queen’s corgi Tiny had an il­licit mo­ment to­gether be­hind the shrub­bery and a new cross­breed – the dorgi – was born. The Queen and her sis­ter were so pleased with the out­come that they de­lib­er­ately mated Pip­kin again. The Queen was not in­tent on cre­at­ing a new breed; she and her sis­ter re­garded the dor­gis as a bit of fun and they were such friendly lit­tle dogs they kept on do­ing it. When royal pho­tog­ra­pher Nor­man Parkin­son asked the Queen how the cor­gis and dachshunds were able to mate, given their dif­fer­ent heights, she replied, ‘It’s very sim­ple. We have a lit­tle brick.’

Pam­pered though her dogs may have been, the Queen was noth­ing if not prac­ti­cal; their bowls were a mot­ley col­lec­tion of metal and porce­lain. They did, how­ever, eat very well, with di­ets tai­lored to their in­di­vid­ual needs. In the coun­try the dogs ate rab­bit shot on the es­tates; oth­er­wise it was a va­ri­ety of fresh, cooked meat, veg­eta­bles and rice pre­pared for them in the royal kitchens, topped with a lit­tle bis­cuit, home­o­pathic and herbal remedies when re­quired and a spe­cial gravy that, leg­end has it, was the Queen’s own recipe.

When­ever pos­si­ble she fed them her­self and it was an af­ter­noon rit­ual; but not an un­ruly, fran­tic free-for-all. A foot­man brought the food and the bowls on a sil­ver tray and laid out a plas­tic sheet to pro­tect the car­pet. The Queen then sat them in a semi­cir­cle around her and did the rest.

Roger Mug­ford, the an­i­mal psy­chol­o­gist who was brought in af­ter some dra­matic dog fights, watched her do this and was im­pressed. ‘The Queen looked across to the semi­cir­cle of quiet but sali­vat­ing dogs con­gre­gated a few me­tres away and called each one in turn to take his or her food. There was never a growl or a rude look be­tween the dogs. She ex­plained that she had al­ways been strict in re­quir­ing good man­ners at feed­ing time and each was obliged to wait his turn – the el­dest to be fed first, the youngest last.’

They did it for the Queen be­cause they were her dogs and she was their pack leader. But they had a habit of be­ing deaf to the com­mands of any­one else, and feed­ing time was not al­ways so calm. When she was away it would fall to a duty foot­man to feed the cor­gis and it is said that one, who was bit­ten dur­ing the food frenzy, took re­venge by lac­ing the dog’s din­ner with gin. The Queen was un­a­mused when she found out and,

‘The Queen will fill AWK­WARD LULLS by turn­ing her at­ten­tion to the DOGS. Her fam­ily calls it the DOG MECH­A­NISM’

al­though the man man­aged to hold on to his job at the palace, he was de­moted and – to his joy – never again per­mit­ted to tend the dogs.

The cor­gis would get treats from the Queen’s plate at meal­times. They clus­tered around the ta­ble, even when she had guests, and at­tended all the best par­ties. Al­though they were not in­vited to state ban­quets, I’m sure the Queen some­times wished they were, for they helped put vis­i­tors, who could be tongue-tied on meet­ing the sov­er­eign, at ease.

One such per­son is David Nott, a sur­geon who works for ten months of the year in ma­jor Lon­don hospi­tals and vol­un­teers his ex­per­tise for two months 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. It was Oc­to­ber 2014 and he had been back in the UK for only ten days; it usu­ally takes him three months to read­just. When the Queen turned to talk to him he couldn’t speak.

‘I was think­ing about the day when seven chil­dren from one fam­ily were brought into the hos­pi­tal,’ Nott re­called. ‘I could feel my bot­tom lip quiv­er­ing. All I could do was stare long and hard at the wall. She re­alised some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong and asked if I’d like to see the dogs. A courtier ap­peared with the cor­gis, and a sil­ver tin of dog bis­cuits was brought to the ta­ble. “Why don’t we feed the dogs?” she said, and we stroked and fed them for about half an hour as she told me all about them. The hu­man­ity of that was un­be­liev­able. She wasn’t the Queen any more but this lovely per­son with a hu­man face.’

The Queen has five reg­u­lar res­i­dences, and cor­gis were a fa­mil­iar sight in all of them, but none more than Buck­ing­ham Palace where they slept in­side her pri­vate apart­ment. There was a spe­cial corgi room where they had raised wicker bas­kets lined with cush­ions. Sched­ule per­mit­ting, she still walks her dor­gis, Vul­can and Candy, daily – and a corgi called Whis­per she took in last year af­ter the death of his owner, a for­mer San­dring­ham game­keeper. Even now, once they are safely in the coun­try she will drive them around the es­tate. There are fewer dogs and they are older and more se­date these days, but at one time there were up to ten scram­bling over the seats bark­ing fu­ri­ously at ev­ery­thing they passed.

As Lady Pamela Hicks said, ‘The Queen is very pri­vate. She longs to be in a room with no­body else. She has few friends and if she had to choose be­tween the dogs, the horses and the friends, there is no doubt which she would choose.’ One of her prime min­is­ters, sur­rounded by the dogs at his weekly au­di­ence, asked her how she could tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween them. ‘Do you get your chil­dren con­fused?’ was the clipped re­sponse.

Ac­cord­ing to for­mer head­keeper Bill Mel­drum ev­ery­one at San­dring­ham knows im­me­di­ately when the Queen ar­rives be­cause the gun­dogs alert them. ‘They start bark­ing the mo­ment her car reaches the gate – it’s a good 500 yards from the house. We have no idea how they can tell and they don’t do that with any­one else.’

It is her love of dogs as much as any­thing else that en­ables so many of us to feel we have a spe­cial con­nec­tion with the Queen. Strip away the wealth, the priv­i­lege and the palaces, and the bond she has with her dogs is no dif­fer­ent from the one the rest of us have with ours, no mat­ter what our sta­tion in life.

This is an edited ex­tract from All The Queen’s Cor­gis by Penny Junor, to be pub­lished by Hod­der & Stoughton on Thurs­day, price £14.99*

The Queen at Bal­moral es­tate in 1971, right. The Queen Mother’s cor­gis were fre­quent flyers, far right

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