December 4, 2022

Some of the Queen’s closest friends and family members, including Prince William, shared their favorite things about Her Majesty earlier this year in honor of her 70th year on the throne.

Michael Deaver, President Ronald Reagan’s deputy chief of staff, 1980s: ‘The Queen had a wonderful time in California. When the gangplanks were up and the tiaras were off and the bar was open, I said to her, “We have a free evening tomorrow and I have called Trader Vic’s and they will give us a special room, I thought it would be fun.” She said, “Oh, a restaurant! That’s wonderful!” She turned to the Duke of Edinburgh and he said, “A restaurant? Surely you are kidding.” 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.” When we got back the Queen said to me, “Thank you Mr Deaver, it was the first time we have been in a restaurant in 17 years.”‘

Alexander Armstrong, actor: ‘I addressed the Sandringham branch of the Women’s Institute on a cold Thursday in January in 2019 and there were about 35 women in this tiny little village hall in Norfolk. And it just happened that one of those women was the most famous woman on the planet. I hosted a game of Pointless and she has some deft Pointless skills. We had tea. I sang by the piano. In that context it was all the weirder and all the more exciting. She was extraordinary. Dazzling.’

Raymond Seitz, US ambassador to the UK, 1980s: ‘The president [George Bush Sr] is a very tall man. When he stepped back from the podium and the Queen stepped up, someone should have adjusted it. The photograph the next day in the Washington Post showed the podium, the Queen’s eyes and her hat! The next day, the Queen addressed the joint session of Congress, and she began with the line, “I hope you can all see me.” It brought the house down.’

Sir Michael Oswald, manager of the royal stud, 1970-98: ‘I had some printed paper made up especially for writing to the Queen. I got answers back on some very inexpensive paper torn off a pad, the cheapest sort of paper you could get, and I soon got the message. She deplores any form of extravagance and left to her own devices would live a far simpler life, eating plain food and wandering about with horses and dogs in the countryside. I believe it’s that there’s a certain amount of Scots blood in her.’

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Clare Balding, television presenter: ‘There’s a very innocent, childlike joy at winning a rosette or a Tesco voucher for £50 – which happened at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2016 – and honestly, you would have thought that the Queen had won the lottery. It was brilliant.’

Ivan Head, special assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada, 1970s: ‘We were at Windsor, and we went into a tiny room for lunch. As we went in the Queen said to me, “Mr Head, you sit there and be Daddy, I’ll sit here and be Mummy.”’

Michael Noakes, artist: ‘The Queen talks non-stop through sittings. At one session, to get the right height relationship, I had her stood on a trolley which meant she could see outside. She kept up a running commentary. And then a taxi got hit by a car, and they didn’t know that the Queen was saying, “Oh, he’s got out now. There’s going to be a fight I think…”’

Sir Oliver Wright British, ambassador to West Germany and the US, 1970s-80s: ‘She has the most girlish giggle you can think of, and it is so beautiful when her face lights up in a smile. In private, she is a very normal person. But, just as soldiers put on uniforms for their duties, so she has to be regal when she performs hers.’

Admiral Sir Henry Leach, chief naval aide and aide de camp to the Queen: ‘I had been at great pains to find out from the Master of the Household what the Queen would drink before going into dinner, and I was told she would have a dry martini. To be quite sure I said, “What do you mean?” and he said, “Gin and French vermouth, shaken up properly in a shaker, with crushed ice. And no ice in the glass.”’

When she came into the cabin I said, “Would you care for a drink, Ma’am”, and she took one look and said, “What on earth is that?” I said, “It’s a dry martini, Ma’am, which I understood to be your preference” and she said, “It doesn’t look like it to me.” She reached out her hand as if she was about to fondle a snake, picked it up, wrinkled her nose and took a tiny sip. And then a look of immense delight came over her face.’

Margaret Rhodes, the Queen’s cousin: ‘I believe she hoped she might have a brother and be let off the hook, but deep down, she knew that wasn’t very likely. She accepted that she would be Queen one day, but thought it was a long way off. Sadly, it came to her much sooner than she expected.’

Nelson Mandela: ‘At one function Margaret Thatcher and the Queen had similar dresses. Mrs Thatcher said, “I’m sorry about this, next time we must speak to each other to see what we are going to wear.” And Her Majesty says, “Her Majesty never notices what another person is wearing.” I thought that was beautiful.’

Raymond Seitz: ‘I happened to be sitting next to the Queen at a dinner the day before she opened her website, and she was very tickled by this. She thought it was the equivalent maybe of when her grandmother had first driven a car, a little wild, a little racy, a little unmonarchical, but sort of fun.’

Sir Michael Palin, actor and TV presenter: ‘We were talking about diaries after I’d mentioned that I kept a nightly journal of where I’d been and the people I encountered, she said she did too, the difference being that, while mine may have been for publication, hers were definitely not. She commented that she found it quite difficult because it always made her a bit woozy and said, “I usually manage to write for about 15 minutes before my head goes bump”, and then she did an imitation of her head hitting the table, as if she’d fallen asleep.’

Sir Rex Hunt, governor of the Falkland Islands, 1980s: ‘We had a very nice audience with the Queen when I was thrown out of the Falklands in 1982 after the Argentine invasion. My wife and I were invited to go and see her at Windsor. She was like any other mother worried about the role her son was going to play [Andrew was a Royal Navy helicopter pilot in the Falklands War]. Her question to me was, “Do you think he’ll be warm enough?”, referring to the clothes issued by the Navy. I spoke to her just as I would to any other anxious mother whose son was going off to war. I forgot entirely that she was my queen and I found myself reassuring her as much as I could.’

Lord Healey Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1970s: ‘It’s a difficult thing seeing the monarch. I think the only time I felt quite natural was once when I was meeting the Queen about the Budget and Princess Anne – who looked just like my daughter at the time – came in and said she wanted to go up to Sandringham. The Queen said, “Well darling, do be careful how you drive.” Exactly like my wife and daughter.’

John Grigg, politician, formerly Lord Altrincham: ‘She is very easy and fun. When she does walkabouts, she’s really good. But compared to Prince Charles and her mother, she’s not good at responding dramatically to the crowds. People now accept her rather reticent style. They realize it’s how she chooses to bear herself in public. She isn’t an actress, and she can’t get into the actress business.’

Zara Tindall: ‘I love to talk about racing with my grandmother. Whenever I’m with her and my great-grandmother [the late Queen Mother] and they’ve both got a runner, we sit down to watch them on telly and egg them on. Everyone has fun with their grannies don’t they – and my granny is great fun too.’

Princess Eugenie: ‘Granny would take us raspberry picking, and we’d have the raspberry jam that we’d picked that day on the table for tea.’ 

Michael Deaver: ‘We were at Windsor with our backs to the castle and I was saying, “Now, the president will arrive here, and he will walk up here and the Queen will be standing over there…” And I heard this voice behind me saying, “No, I don’t think so.” I turned around and it was Queen Elizabeth, and she said, “I think I’ll be standing here…”’

Prince William: ‘I’d definitely argue with the sanity of the corgis barking all the time. I don’t know how she copes with it.’

Lord Blunkett, Home Secretary, 2001-04: ‘Both of us having dogs, mine being my seeing eye dog, Her Majesty and I had something in common and we used to talk about ours. During Vladimir Putin’s state visit to the UK, my dog barked at the Russian visitor and Her Majesty patted him, as if to say, “Good dog! Good dog!”’ These quotes have been partly extracted from Queen Elizabeth II: The Oral History by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald Strober by September Publishing.