The Queen of hearts
Princess Elizabeth never expected to become queen. Even when she was first in line to the throne, she didn’t think she’d have to assume the role of monarch so soon. But after her father died young, the new wife and mother took the throne at just 25 years old, dedicating her entire life, “whether it be long or short,” in service to the country. As it turns out, it was the latter, and the nearly 94-year-old Queen Elizabeth II is perhaps more beloved today than ever. Even if you’ve seen The Crown, the Netflix series about her life, you probably don’t know the real story behind this famously tight-lipped royal, so let’s take a closer look at the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
She has only given one sit-down interview in her entire reign
Dubbed ‘Elizabeth the Silent’ by historian David Starkey, Queen Elizabeth II rarely gives press interviews and is said to keep her politics hidden from the public eye at all times. Part of the Queen’s “enduring appeal is that she has never bared her soul to the public…Even in this era of the celebrity confessional, she has remained enveloped in mystery,” according to the Daily Mail. She did break with tradition, however, to give the BBC her first sit-down interview in 2018, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of her coronation.
She enjoys Scottish dancing
You might know that the Queen spends her summer vacation at the lovely Balmoral Castle in Scotland. But you might not know that she picked up an invigorating hobby during her time there. “A lesser-known interest is Scottish country dancing,” reads her official biography. “Each year during her stay at Balmoral Castle, the Queen gives dances known as Gillies’ Balls, for neighbours, estate and Castle staff, and members of the local community.” One clip form 1990 shows the Queen giddily dancing the Eightsome Reel at the ball with Prince Philip and the rest of her family.
She once fooled tourists who didn't know who she was
Speaking of Balmoral, the Queen takes the opportunity while relaxing in Scotland to let her guard down a bit. Instead of her usual queenly demeanour, she enjoys the outdoors in an everyday raincoat and kerchief. One of her former security guards told a funny story about the Queen running into some American tourists on one of her country walks. Not knowing who she was, they asked if she lived around there, to which she cheekily told them that she had a house nearby. When they asked if she’d ever met the Queen, she replied, “No, but he has,” pointing to her security guard. She’s definitely not lacking in that dry English wit!
She jokes about her age
If you still don’t believe the buttoned-up monarch has a sense of humour, you haven’t seen Queen Elizabeth come up with a quick retort. Case in point: while introducing her at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reverently said, “I am deeply mindful of Your Majesty’s long and tireless service.” After coming to the microphone, the Queen deadpanned, “Thank you, Mr Prime Minister of Canada, for making me feel so old.” Her off-the-cuff remark elicited a huge laugh from the audience.
It wouldn’t be the last time she joked about getting older: In 2016, upon being asked by a minister from Northern Ireland if she was well, she cheerily replied, “I’m still alive, anyway!” In November, while meeting a 100-year-old veteran, she joked, “[You] beat me!”
She acted in a James Bond scene
The light-hearted Queen also starred opposite Daniel Craig in a James Bond skit to open the 2012 London Olympics. Reportedly, the director inquired whether he could use her likeness – to which Queen Elizabeth responded that she wanted to appear in it herself! According to the Queen’s former dresser, Angela Kelly, she even insisted on having a speaking role. “I asked whether she would like to say, ‘Good evening, James,’ or, ‘Good evening, Mr. Bond,’” Kelly wrote in her recent book. “She chose the latter, knowing the Bond films.” In the skit, after the Queen and James Bond left Buckingham Palace on a helicopter, a real helicopter appeared live over the Olympic stadium, and the Queen appeared to parachute out – but she left that one to a stunt double.
But she declined to sit on the Iron Throne
James Bond may have delighted Queen Elizabeth, but a stop by the Game of Thrones set may have left her feeling a bit ‘meh.’ The Queen and Prince Philip toured the HBO series while on a visit to Northern Ireland in 2014, and they even chatted with members of the cast, including Kit Harington and Sophie Turner. In the show, the seat of all the kingdoms everyone is competing for in the titular ‘Game’ is the Iron Throne, made up of swords and spikes. However, when shown the throne-room set and the Iron Throne itself, the Queen chose not to try it out. Most people would jump at the chance to sit upon it – but maybe if you’ve got your own real-life throne, a fake one pales in comparison.
She's not the richest person in Britain
For all her influence, Queen Elizabeth is not the wealthiest person in the United Kingdom. Although she no doubt lives in a world of privilege, she hasn’t even recently appeared in the UK’s Sunday Times list of the 300 richest people in the country. According to the Independent, she’s worth around £340 million (about $421 million); Forbes estimates $500 million, but that’s still way below the 2153 billionaires on that magazine’s 2019 richest-people list. Much of the Queen’s money comes from private income from her estates. Taxpayers do pay for expenses for her official duties, but Forbes estimates that amount is much less than the tourism and economy boost the royal family provides the country.
She hosts 30,000 people a year at garden parties
Even if she isn’t the richest, Queen Elizabeth is no doubt one of the most popular people in the country. Each year, she hosts 30,000 people at her garden parties at Buckingham Palace and Holyroodhouse, her official residence in Scotland. According to the Queen’s website, ‘at each Garden Party, around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches, and 20,000 slices of cake are consumed.’ And these gatherings are not just for royalty and aristocrats: regular folks go, too, so the Queen has an opportunity to speak to people ‘from all walks of life.’ But you can’t just show up, and you can’t ask for an invitation: you have to be nominated through a network of sponsors, as recognition for your public service to and positive impact on your community.
Her Christmas broadcast is an annual tradition
Another way Queen Elizabeth gets close to her people is with her yearly Christmas television broadcast, in which she addresses the nation and reflects on the past year and what Christmas means to her. The Christmas address was started by her grandfather, King George VI, with radio broadcasts in 1932. The first television broadcast was made by the Queen in 1957, and since then, it has become a tradition for families throughout Britain to watch on Christmas Day. The Queen herself enjoys Christmas with her family at Sandringham House, her estate in Norfolk, and spends Christmas morning attending church. Before the holiday, she sends out around 750 Christmas cards to family, friends, and some government officials; she also gives about 1500 Christmas puddings to palace staff.
The Queen first posted on Instagram in 2019
Lest she be accused of not being modern, Queen Elizabeth has an active presence on social media. She even published her first Instagram post last year at the Science Museum in London: tying the new medium together with the old, her post included a photo of an 1843 letter from the world’s first computer pioneer, Charles Babbage, to the Queen’s great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert (aka husband to Queen Victoria), who was very interested in scientific progress. “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors,” she wrote, signing it ‘Elizabeth R.’ In 2014, the Queen also tweeted for the first time from the Science Museum.
She reads her fan mail
Yep, you can write snail mail to the Queen – and she will likely read it! According to her official website, she receives around 60 000 pieces of mail a year and is shown almost all of her daily correspondence. She ‘takes a keen interest’ in the letters she receives and might even write back, as she does for her subjects celebrating milestones such as turning 100 or celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. If you’re writing to the Queen, “you can open with ‘Madam’ and close the letter with the form ‘I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant,’” says her website. But you don’t need to do this: you can write however you feel comfortable. Her address is: Her Majesty The Queen, Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA, England.
You don't have to bow to the Queen
If you should happen to meet the Queen, there are likewise no official rules for how you should greet her. ‘Many people ask how they should greet Her Majesty,’ her official website reads. The simple answer is that there are no obligatory codes of behaviour – just courtesy. However, many people wish to observe the traditional forms of greeting. For men this is a neck bow (from the head only) whilst women do a small curtsy. Other people prefer simply to shake hands in the usual way. You probably wouldn’t want to go in for a hug, though – that might be a bit too much – but we do wonder how she’d react to a fist bump.
She celebrates her birthday twice a year
Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her birthday on April 21 – and then does it again in June. It’s actually been a tradition since 1784 that the British monarch’s birthday celebrations are held on a day that is not their actual birthday. That’s because London weather could literally put a damper on the military celebratory parade if not held in more climate-friendly months.
She was only a tween when she fell in love with her distant cousin
According to a 1957 article in Time, Prince Philip met Elizabeth, his third cousin, when they were children (they shared the same great-great-grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were first cousins themselves). From the time she was 13, she was besotted. She never fell for another man, though he had other relationships while she grew into adulthood. Their love stood the test of the time and in 2007, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary with 60 years of marriage to Prince Philip.
Her grandmother disapproved of one of her wedding gifts
During her reign, the Queen has received some interesting gifts from jaguars and sloths to a grove of maple trees and 7 kilos of prawns. But it was one of her 1947 wedding gifts that had her grandmother concerned: according to the BBC’s royal correspondent at the time, Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, disapproved of Mahatma Gandhi’s present of hand-spun lace calling it ‘indelicate.’ Turns out she’d mistaken the tray cover for the Indian leader’s loincloth.
She's the longest-reigning monarch in British history
On February 6, 2017, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to reign for 65 years, celebrating her Sapphire Jubilee. To mark the momentous occasion there were new coins, a new stamp, gun salutes, and a re-released portrait taken by British photographer David Bailey, where the Queen is wearing a suite of sapphire jewels she received as a wedding day gift from her father, King George VI, in 1947.
She has a few nicknames
Queen Elizabeth II’s full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. But back when she was still Princess Elizabeth, she was called Lilibet by close family. She had trouble pronouncing her own name when she was a young girl, and that’s how it came out. Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is known to call her Cabbage. Then there are her great-grandchildren. “George is only 2 and a half, and he calls her ‘Gan-Gan,’” the prince’s mother, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, said in an ITV special interview a few years ago.
Finally, a not-so-affectionate nickname was bestowed upon the Queen by her Uncle David (also known as the abdicated King Edward VIII). In letters made public in 1988, he referred to his niece as Shirley Temple on account of her ‘dumpy’ frame and curly hair, which looked similar to that of the child star.
Her father ascended to the throne after a scandal
Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, became king after his older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite divorcée. This was scandalous as Simpson was still legally married to her second husband when they first got together and the abdication was the biggest constitutional crisis in modern royal history. Supposedly bad blood existed between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Edward and Wallis) and the royal family. The King’s Speech is a 2010 biographical movie about King George VI coping with a stammer as he ascends to the throne after his brother.
She was rumoured to have had an affair
The Crown takes many liberties with real-life royal events. One such liberty is based on rumours of an affair between her and childhood friend Porchie. It’s true that Porchie, aka Lord Porchester, and later Earl of Carnarvon, was extremely close to the Queen, and that in 1969 she took him on as her racing manager, but there’s never been evidence of a romance. However, rumours claiming that he is Prince Andrew’s biological father are still making the rounds today. Still, several key elements of the series are either totally made up or exaggerated for dramatic effect.
She served in World War II
Before she donned her trademark brightly coloured dresses, coats and matching hats, Queen Elizabeth II wore a military uniform. Her father, the king at the time, was hesitant to let her join, but she eventually joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945. She worked as a mechanic and truck driver, according to History.com. Her service makes her the only current living head of state to have served in World War II, and the only female member of the royal family to have entered the military.
She was a Girl Guide and a Sea Ranger
Before she entered the military, the outdoorsy Princess Elizabeth started her survival-skills training as a Girl Guide. Her mother was an early supporter of the organisation and enrolled Princess Elizabeth when she was 11, along with her sister, Princess Margaret. Elizabeth was part of the 1st Buckingham Palace Company, formed in 1937 so the Princess could be a Girl Guide. The troop was made up of kids from the royal household and the children of palace employees. Princess Elizabeth can even be seen in a 1943 photograph practicing her bandaging skills on her little sister. She also joined the Sea Rangers, a group that teaches girls sailing and other water-based activities.
She's a dog lover
We’ve all seen the classic images: Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by her iconic corgis. But do you know the real extent of her love for corgis? She received her first, Susan, as a birthday present when she turned 18, according to the New York Times. She’s owned at least 30 Pembroke Welsh corgis, all descendants of Susan, the last of which, named Willow, died in April of 2018. She’s owned other breeds as well; most notably, the royal family has bred ‘dorgis’ – a mix between corgis and dachshunds.
She's exempt from the usual documentation
The Queen can drive without a licence, because they’re all actually issued in her name in the United Kingdom, according to Express. On her over 250 international visits to over 100 countries, she’s never needed a passport, for the same reason. Oh, and she’s exempt from taxes, but still voluntarily pays income and capital gains taxes.
She owns wild animals
The rumours are true: Queen Elizabeth really does own all the swans in the United Kingdom – well, the unmarked mute swans, anyway. Every year, as per royal tradition, she has a team row through the River Thames to count the birds and check their health; this is called ‘swan upping’. She also can lay claim to any ‘fishes royal’ – dolphins, whales, porpoises, and sturgeons – caught within three miles of British shores.
Her iconic handbag holds some secrets
When you’re a queen, you don’t really need to drag a purse with you, considering you have staff waiting on you hand and foot. She reportedly doesn’t carry money (just a lipstick, mirror and other essentials), so her bag’s main purpose is to send messages to her staff. When her bag goes on the floor, it’s a cry for help for a lady-in-waiting to save her from a dreadful conversation. If she puts her purse on the table during dinner, that’s a hint that she’d like the meal to wrap up pronto.
She was a hands-off mother
Queen Elizabeth wasn’t an uncaring mother, but she wasn’t exactly a warm-and-fuzzy mum. She notoriously left five-year-old Prince Charles and three-year-old Princess Anne back in England when she and Prince Philip went on a six-month tour of the Commonwealth in 1954. When she got back, she and Philip greeted kids not with big bear hugs, but with prim and proper handshakes. The parents later sent Charles to boarding school, despite the fact that he was miserable and bullied there, and Princess Anne admitted in a 2002 interview that their mum had time “limitations” when they were growing up, adding that Elizabeth cared for her four kids “in exactly the same way as any other mother did.”
She hates garlic
One thing you’ll never, ever see on the menu (if Queen Elizabeth has anything to say about it): garlic. Her former royal chef Darren McGrady told Recipes Plus that Her Majesty wasn’t picky, but hated garlicky food or anything with too much onion. Camilla Parker Bowles later confirmed on Masterchef Australia that “garlic is a no-no” for the royal family because they don’t want bad breath while meeting and greeting.
She never went to school
Queen Elizabeth never went to prep school, and she doesn’t have a college degree. But she still got quite the education from her tutors at home. She learned constitutional history and law under Henry Marten, who was vice provost of Eton College and had the Archbishop of Canterbury as a religion teacher.
She paid for her wedding dress with coupons
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip tied the knot in 1947 when the United Kingdom was still recovering from World War II. The country had rationing measures in place, and not even the future queen was exempt from using ration coupons to pay for items. Elizabeth saved up her own coupons, plus received an extra 200 from the government, to pay for the satin dress studded with crystals and pearls. Hundreds of British subjects tried sending her their own coupons to pay for her big day, but she sent them back; after all, transferring the vouchers would have been illegal.
She can be surprisingly frugal
Living royally doesn’t have to mean over-the-top extravagance. Queen Elizabeth II is a fan of eating Special K cereal and leftovers, and her waste-not-mindset means she’d rather fix and reuse items like sheets and gloves than toss them in the trash. She’s also known for ‘outfit recycling’ (read: re-wearing her clothes), not only for her everyday outfits, but for some of her more iconic pieces. Even her Coronation dress has been dug out of the closet – she’s worn it six times.
She has a poet who she pays in wine
Ever since the 17th century, a poet laureate has been part of the British royal staff. Going along with tradition, Queen Elizabeth’s new poet, Simon Armitage, whom she appointed in 2019, is paid in a ‘butt of sack’, or 720 bottles of sherry. Armitage will also receive a £5750 yearly stipend, which he intends to donate toward his charitable cause, climate change. The Queen also presented Armitage with the Gold Medal for Poetry.
She was one of the first heads of state to send an email
In 1976, ARPANET (the precursor to the Internet) hadn’t been in the United Kingdom for long. So when she pressed a few buttons to send an email at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in England, she was ahead of her time. The username her message was sent from HME2 – short for Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, of course.
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