If Proust can change your life, then will imitating the queen make you happy? Mary Killen, society fixture and posh agony aunt of British magazine The Spectator certainly believes it can. Here are the best life lessons from her new book, How the Queen Can Make You Happy.
Compartmentalize and Carry On
“As Churchill himself pronounced, ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’ On the afternoon of the death of her sister, Princess Margaret, the Queen was visiting Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children to celebrate its 150th anniversary. She was clad in black but smiling.
"How does she do it? She compartmentalizes. Her philosophy seems to be, there may be trouble ahead and behind but, at this precise moment, I am enjoying doing something useful and cheering people up so I will concentrate on that.
“Clearly, she plans for tomorrow but lives in today.”
Take Small Bites
“Only modest forkfuls make their way into the Queen’s mouth; she chews the foodstuff to a paste and swallows the mixture. Then she speaks. Note, the Queen prefers non-fizzy drinks. Indeed, it was Joan Collins who pointed out in her book My Friends’ Secrets—about beauty, health and happiness—that the one secret shared by most of the elderly but still functioning beauties whom she interviewed was that they never had fizzy drinks. Fizzy drinks harm digestion.”
“As a child the Queen kept detailed accounts of her one shilling a week pocket money. As an adult the sequins and beads from her evening dresses are recycled on to new outfits. And heating bills for Buckingham Palace have been dramatically reduced by the ecosystem there, which has been in place for decades. A combined heat and power system, along with LED lights and double-glazed skylights, keeps costs down.”
“The Queen has always hated fashion. ‘Oh poor Britannia, she would have hated being Cool!’ she remarked when Tony Blair was peddling the idea. In fact, the Queen rejects new fashions, opting instead for the opposite stance, make do and mend.”
Get Plenty of Fresh Air
“By continuing to ride, four days a week, she keeps up the capacity to do so. The requisite limbs remain used to the flexing. And by continuing to walk approximately four miles a day, she retains good use of her legs. In short, fresh air is a prerequisite, and all the royals are known to go out in the kind of weather that most people would not dream of venturing into.”
Have Impeccable Table Maners
"If you are a man, talk to the woman on your right for the first course and to the woman on your left for the second. It is almost like a team game and the one who lets the side down is the person who selfishly doesn’t turn, causing the whole process to collapse like dominoes. So turn you must, even if you have fallen passionately in love with the person next to you at the table.”
“When everyone around us is drunkenly confessing to their foibles, perversions, and physical defects, we are fascinated. But what we really find fascinating are those people who have not confessed at all.
"‘We must not let in daylight upon magic,’ urged the economist and critic Walter Bagehot, who did not think that royalty would benefit from its public knowing the human details. And one reason for our Queen’s enduring popularity is that she retains that mystique. We know she is a human but we do not know—and most of us certainly do not want to know—the details, thank you. Take a tip from her and keep your private details private. Do not tweet or Facebook or sell to the press stories connected to the less lofty side of your being human. Soul-bearing can and should be done, but not as a facet of gossip or titillation or for the short-term gain of drunken bonding."
Don’t Be Late
“Members of the Queen’s generation are never late. The whole point of being on time, instead of starting to make phone calls to announce that you are running late at the moment when you are meant to have arrived, is that you thereby sidestep the terrible anxiety and guilt we have all got used to feeling since mobiles came in. Mobiles give the illusion that we have extra time. In fact, they rob us of it. Take a tip from the Queen and let people set their clock by you.”
“The Queen’s routine is fairly invariable. At 8 a.m. a tray with tea will be delivered to her bedroom and her bath will be run for her to the correct temperature, tested by thermometer to be 72 degrees fahrenheit. Her clothes are laid out for her and her hairdresser will be present.
"At 9 a.m. the piper plays beneath her windows and she walks from the bedroom, through her sitting room to the dining room, holding her Roberts radio, listening to the news of the day. She has cereal, toast, and Oxford marmalade. At 10 a.m. her private secretary will arrive to discuss correspondence and state papers. Then she studies her briefing material.
"If having a routine works for the Queen, let it work for you. Like continuity, it provides a yardstick against which we can measure ourselves. It breeds a sense of security and reassurance, and frees the mind for more taxing topics."
“Tidiness is one of the primary life skills. Like not reading the Sunday papers—which effectively gives you an extra day per week—it frees up so much time when you are able to put your hands on things easily. Crawfie, the Queen’s nanny, revealed in her autobiography that as a little girl the Queen was compulsively tidy and was always arranging her shoes in tidy rows and also her collection of sea shells.”
Mary Killen writes a weekly advice column for The Spectator. A journalist since l984, she began her career on Mark Boxer’s Tatler. She has since written for the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Daily Express, as well as Marie Claire magazine and Harpers & Queen. She writes a monthly motoring column for House & Garden magazine, and a diary column for The Lady, and freelances for many other publications.
Sixty years and hardly a slip.