In nearly 70 years on the throne,
For all those, the encounter left an abiding memory.
Over the course of almost a quarter of a century, authors DEBORAH HART STROBER and GERALD STROBER have interviewed dozens of those who know or have met her and compiled their recollections into a fascinating new book.
In nearly 70 years on the throne, the Queen has met countless people — from presidents to the world’s poorest. For all those, the encounter left an abiding memory. (Above, the monarch at Royal Ascot in 2017)
The Queen talks non-stop during sittings. There are not long periods of silence at all.
In the mid-1970s, I painted Her Majesty wearing robes for the Order of the Bath, which are a bright, pinky red, in satin. They’re very striking. We had an afternoon session once where the light was awful, so I put the lights on.
It was a big picture I was painting — 8 ft tall — for the city of Manchester, and to get to her head, which was 6 ft up on the canvas, I had to stand on a trolley. To get her in the right height relationship, she stood on a trolley, too.
But it meant that raised up to get enough light, she could be seen from outside through the window. This was not supposed to happen but we were in a room overlooking The Mall and Birdcage Walk — on the side of the Palace she didn’t normally go to.
Looking out of the window, she kept up a running commentary, either on the scene, or on people’s comments about glimpsing her. She was amused at people saying: ‘Wow!’
And then there was a taxi that got hit by a car and she carried on a running commentary about that. I thought it was quite fun because they didn’t know that the Queen was saying: ‘Oh! He’s got out now; there’s going to be a fight, I think.’
President Reagan’s deputy chief of staff
The Queen had a wonderful time when she visited California in 1983. She phoned Princess Margaret every day and excitedly told her what was happening, what she and Philip had done that day and how much fun they’d had.
But when torrential rains came, they decided they weren’t going to ‘steam’ [travel in Britannia] because she doesn’t like rough weather. That caused me a terrible problem because it gave us a whole night that I hadn’t planned for.
I went up to the Queen and said: ‘We have a free evening tomorrow in San Francisco, and I have called Trader Vic’s and they’re going to give us a special room and I just thought it would be fun.’ And she said: ‘Oh, a restaurant! That’s wonderful!’
The Queen had a wonderful time when she visited California in 1983 (above with Philip, and Nancy and Ronald Reagan). She phoned Princess Margaret every day and excitedly told her what was happening, what she and Philip had done that day and how much fun they’d had
And the Queen turned to the Duke of Edinburgh and said to him: ‘Philip, Mr Deaver has this wonderful idea about going to a restaurant!’ He said: ‘A restaurant? Surely you are kidding? A restaurant?’
She turned to me and said: ‘We’ll talk about it tonight and I’ll tell you.’ And she came down later and said: ‘We’d be delighted to go to a restaurant.’
We did have a wonderful time at Trader Vic’s. To see Susan Hussey [her lady-in-waiting], and the Duchess of Grafton, the lady of the robes, with these drinks — they hit you like that; they’re powerful things!
And, of course, Vic sold that dinner for years: you could go in and get the ‘royal dinner’. That evening, when I took them back up to their suite, the Queen said to me: ‘Thank you, Mr Deaver. That was a wonderful evening. It was the first time we have been in a restaurant in 17 years!’
Former South African president
I went with the Queen to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall [in 1996]. There was a South African choir singing. I was sitting with Her Majesty and Prince Charles, and I got up and danced — and Her Majesty got up and danced, too! I really enjoyed that.
She’s a wonderful lady.
Sir Bernard Ingham
Former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher
Quite frankly, the Royal Family has two problems; they are called the Duke of York and Prince Harry, both of whom are lacking in any judgment.
Sir Michael Oswald
Manager of the Royal Stud
A lot of people working, say, in Buckingham Palace — certainly from the Queen’s early days in the job — tended to write to each other on rather smart writing paper, embossed with the coat of arms and ‘Buckingham Palace’ written underneath, or ‘Sandringham’, and I had some printed paper made up especially for writing to the Queen.
I got answers to my letters, memos and notes back on some very, very inexpensive paper torn off a pad — about the cheapest sort of paper you could get. And I very soon got the message.
There’s a certain amount of Scottish blood in the Queen. She deplores any form of extravagance and left to her own devices would live a far simpler life, eating fairly plain food, with horses and dogs in the countryside, which she understands and loves.
I was invited to a lunch at Buckingham Palace. There were only 12 of us, including the royals, and I sat next to the Duke of Edinburgh.
They both have a marvellous sense of humour, rather dry. One of the guests was a well-known international sculptor, a funny young man, and he said: ‘Ma’am, do you ever watch television now?’ And she didn’t really answer him.
The Queen, as portrayed in Spitting Image
He said: ‘I just wondered if you watch Spitting Image?’ And she said: ‘What did you say?’
And he said: ‘I wondered if you ever watch Spitting Image, and you saw the occasion where your puppet said: ‘Now, Mr Major, what do you do?’
He was very brave.
And she said: ‘I thought it was the funniest thing!’
President Reagan was a great admirer of the Queen. He liked to talk to her about horses: they were both familiar with thoroughbreds, and he was somebody who could handle and enjoy big horses.
I believe she enjoyed being around him very much. When we arrived at Windsor, all of our bags that had been on Air Force One had been taken to our room. But of course at Windsor you are assigned a valet, for me, and a maid, for my wife.
They had taken out all of her cosmetics and lined them all up, precisely.
And she had a pair of old sheepskin slippers that were horrible to look at, and they were neatly in front of the bed. And I remember her saying: ‘Oh, my God!’
We had been on the road for five or six days, so our suitcases were filled with dirty clothes. The problem was they had taken everything out to launder, and I had no pyjamas.
So the next morning I came out of the bath with nothing on — just as the maid came in with our breakfast tray. I could have been a grandfather clock as far as she was concerned.
She said: ‘Good morning, sir,’ and I stood there like I was a piece of stone as long as I could and they discussed what my wife was going to wear that day.
The other thing that morning was the Queen’s ‘alarm clock’—pipers at Windsor at 7am outside her window. And in addition to the pipers, there was a footman, in tails, walking the corgis!
U.S. harmonica player
The Queen Mother did something amazing. I did a concert at Clarence House, and she came over and asked could she see the harmonica? So I handed it to her. And I swear she said: ‘No one will ever believe me when I tell them that I held Larry Adler’s organ!’ And she knew what she was saying because she gave me a wink.
Lord (Denis) Healey
Lord Mountbatten was always rather pro-Labour. There was a story about how, during a general election, a Conservative canvasser called at Broadlands, where he lived.
He answered the front door, and the chap said: ‘I’m a canvasser for the Conservative Party,’ and Dickie said: ‘Ah, well, I don’t have a vote, of course, because I’m a peer of the realm. But if I had one, I’d vote Labour. But you can talk to my butler; I think he’s a Conservative.’
Diplomat and son of President Eisenhower
In 1965, Princess Margaret came to Washington and there was a dinner at the White House. When I went through the receiving line, Princess Margaret said: ‘I’ll see you later.’
Later on, I made my way over to her and we had a very, very friendly conversation. And then I said: ‘How’s your mother?’
She turned into an iceberg, right in front of me, and said: ‘You mean Her Majesty the Queen Mother.’
Sir Rex Hunt
I visited the Queen in 1982, just days after the Argentines invaded the islands.
After I was thrown out of the Falklands, the Queen invited my wife and me to Windsor Castle — and we had a full 45 minutes with her. She was just like any other mother: worried about the role that her son was going to play — this was on the Wednesday; the task force had sailed on the Monday, and Andrew was on the way.
Her questions to me were: ‘Do you think he’ll be warm enough?’ — with the clothes that were issued by the Army; ‘Do you think we should send him some extra clothing?’
I spoke to her just as I would to any other anxious mother whose son was going off to war; perfectly natural, normal talk. I found myself reassuring her: ‘There’s nothing special you have to wear; the weather is nothing like as bad as you’ve been led to believe.’ She was very relieved.
Above, the Queen with former British Vogue editor, Anna Wintour
It’s a difficult thing, you know, seeing the Monarch: ridiculous things, like you’re never allowed to turn your back on the Queen, so you have to walk backwards out of the room.
The only time I felt quite natural was once when I was meeting with the Queen about the Budget and Princess Anne came in and said she wanted to go up to Sandringham. And the Queen said: ‘Darling, do be careful how you drive,’ exactly like my wife and my daughter.
Bishop Michael Mann
Former Dean at Windsor
I remember her once saying to me: ‘My father told me that I must always remember that whatever I said, or did, to anyone, they would remember it.’
She also has a great sense of mimicry; the Queen imitating the Concorde landing is one of the funniest things you could see. It’s a great pity she very often gives the impression that she’s a bit stuffy and dowdy.
Baron (David) Blunkett
Both of us having dogs, mine being my seeing-eye dog, Her Majesty and I had something in common and we always used to talk about ours. During Vladimir Putin’s state visit to the United Kingdom [in 2003], my dog barked at the Russian visitor and Her Majesty patted him, as if to say: ‘Good dog! Good dog!’
Harold Wilson’s press secretary
There were one or two occasions when Harold got back from the Palace on a Tuesday night that I thought he had had a whisky or two too many with the Queen — she liked to drink, and she liked to gossip; they were both gossips, you know.
I remember Harold telling me, when there was a big issue at the time, that she was far more interested in discovering whether rumours about a prominent French politician were true — that he would ride back home in the early hours on a milk cart, having been womanising somewhere.
There were one or two occasions when Harold [Wilson] got back from the Palace on a Tuesday night that I thought he had had a whisky or two too many with the Queen — she liked to drink, and she liked to gossip; they were both gossips, you know
Her interest was foreign affairs in the widest sense!
But Harold told me that unless he had read his papers, there was a real danger that she would catch him out — she does read all the papers.
The Queen has strong social feelings. She’s one of the few people from her class who, because of the nature of her job, actually sees poverty, and visits people who are suffering. That has made her more sensitive than many dukes and duchesses would be.
Sir Bernard Ingham
There is some evidence from my time at Number 10 that some of the people around Mrs Thatcher felt that the Queen’s hangers-on — as distinct from the Queen —were disparaging. But not the Queen, I don’t think.
Diana and Charles’s bust-up in their bedroom at Althorp
Ex-Archdeacon of York
What disturbs me considerably is that when he was preparing Diana for marriage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, didn’t think she was doing the right thing, that she was taking on something she wouldn’t be able to cope with — but he didn’t say so. I believe that was a gross dereliction of duty.
He could surely have said to Diana: ‘Look, you don’t need to marry this man. If you are having any doubts about this, please tell me. Are you quite sure you’re doing the right thing? It isn’t too late to withdraw.’
As any of us would do if we had a couple coming to us for marriage preparation and we thought one of them really didn’t want to do this.
George Austin: ‘What disturbs me considerably is that when he was preparing Diana for marriage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, didn’t think she was doing the right thing’
Grandson of the wartime PM
Within a month of the wedding, I happened to be taking some constituents to Althorp, Diana’s childhood home, and her father, Johnny Spencer, said: ‘I’d love to show you the private apartments.’
So we had lunch. And then: ‘I must show you the guest room that I had completely redone for Charles and Diana to stay in on their return from honeymoon.’
As he opened the door, he said: ‘I’m afraid it’s a bit of a shambles now.’ And clearly there’d been a battle royal: there were water stains on the green silk wallpaper; there was a Chippendale chair that was broken; there was a mirror cracked.
At the time, my wife and I put it down to a sort of lovers’ tiff. But, with the benefit of hindsight, one can see that [the marital discord] started right at the beginning.
And I suspect it was when Charles told her of his affair with Camilla before they were married. This seemed to drive her ballistic, and from that moment everything went downhill very rapidly.
Admiral Sir Henry Leach
Ex-First Sea Lord, 1979-82
She only had to give one of those sideways looks and you’d fall flat on your face and grovel. How much was in there, I don’t know.
Former boss of the British Red Cross
Diana invited me to have tea with her. She was sitting in the living room with an ambassador’s wife, in her dressing gown and with white stuff all over her face.
I, of course, looked incredibly embarrassed, and they thought this was highly amusing and spent the next two hours ribbing me about it. ‘Come join the girls for some girly chat,’ said Diana.
PS: Not one’s cup of tea — and a Philip one-liner
Prince Charles came to see [Reagan] in May 1981, after he was shot. Their meeting was in the Oval Office, and there were Filipino stewards serving coffee or tea. Prince Charles asked for tea. But to my horror, they served him a cup with a tea bag in it. And he never touched it.
When we left, I said: ‘I am terribly sorry about the tea bag; the steward is not used to brewing a pot of tea.’
And he looked at me and said: ‘Oh, is that what that was?
Former chief of staff to Canadian PM
Prince Philip flew his own flight on his way to Canada and stopped at a Canadian Forces base for refuelling. Down he comes — not in a very good mood at all — and our commanding officer says: ‘Hello. How was the flight, Sir?’
And the Duke says: ‘Have you ever flown before?’ The commanding officer says: ‘Yes.’ And the Duke says: ‘Well, it was a lot like that.’ And he strides off.
Adapted from Queen Elizabeth II: The Oral History by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald Strober, published by September Publishing at £25. ©Deborah Hart Strober & Gerald Strober 2021. To order a copy for £22.50 (offer valid until 18/12/21; UK P&P free), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.
Over the course of almost a quarter of a century, authors Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald Strober have interviewed dozens of those who know or have met her and compiled their recollections into a fascinating new book. Above, the monarch at Windsor in 2016
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