Royal Scoop

Juiciest Bits From ‘The Queen’

From Camilla’s pickup line to the queen’s pet name, Tom Sykes has tidbits from Robert Lacey’s new book.

Celebrated royal biographer Robert Lacey’s The Queen: A Life in Brief is out May 15. Tom Sykes got a sneak peek and delivers the 14 best tidbits from the book.

Princess Margaret wanted to run down a neighbor

By a quirk of fate, when Princess Margaret moved into Kensington Palace, her next-door neighbor was the queen’s private secretary, Tommy Lascelles, who had previously stymied her plans to marry divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. “She did her best to stay away from her old adversary, but she would encounter his stooped frame from time to time, trudging across the courtyard in front of her car, and as she looked through the windscreen, she confessed to friends, she found it difficult not to command her chauffeur to step on the accelerator and crunch the old courtier into the gravel.”

Margaret’s husband compiled a hate list about her

After she was barred from marrying Townsend, Margaret married Lord Snowdon. The relationship became poisonous: he indulged in acts of “scarcely credible viciousness,” compiling lists of “Things I Hate About You” that he left lying around for her to find. “You look like a Jewish manicurist,” read one such note.

BBC labeled royal family footage ‘religious’

The BBC’s 1969 documentary Royal Family, the first time TV cameras had been allowed to film the Royals for an extended period of time, was a sensation when it was broadcast. A further 40 hours of unshown footage was locked away from sight in high-security vaults. “The film cans were labeled ‘religious programming,’” writes Lacey.

‘Whiny’ Charles implied parents were ‘harsh’ and ‘detached’

By 1969, “Charles was already a self-pitying character—‘whiny,’ in the robust opinion of his mother’s private secretary, Martin Charteris.” Brooding on his lonely homecoming after a weeklong tour of Wales after investiture as prince of that region, “The prince stored up the memory for twenty years then poured out his resentment in his 1994 biography by Jonathan Dimbleby, who, with Charles’s blessing, described his mother’s parenting as ‘detached’ and his father, Philip, as ‘very bullying’ and ‘inexplicably harsh.’”

Charles blamed Philip for marriage to Diana

Another resentment came in the form of a letter Philip sent to Charles in 1981 advising him to hurry up and marry Diana or else break off the relationship to preserve her reputation. “At some stage when the marriage started going wrong,” Lacey writes, “He dug this letter out, folded it up and started carrying it round and showing it to everyone. It was his attempt to say that he was forced into it.”

Camilla to Charles: how about it?

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“My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather,” was Camilla’s reputed come-on line when she met Charles, “So how about it?”

‘Bedded could not be wedded’

Lord Mountbatten told Charles, “In a case like yours, a man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down. But, for a wife, he should choose a suitable and sweet-charactered girl; before she meets anyone else.” “Fuck ’em all, in other words, then marry a virgin,” Lacey summarises neatly. “By surrendering her virtue to Charles, Camilla had surrendered her right to marry him—the bedded could not be wedded.”

Queen told to fight for no-tax privilege

Until 1992 the monarch paid no tax on her private income whatsoever. “Not paying tax was one of the things her father had told Elizabeth to fight for,” one of the queen’s senior advisers told Lacey. “It was a matter of family history.” The queen mother was particularly exercised by the issue: “Whenever the question of royal taxes arose, the phone lines would grow hot between Clarence House and Buckingham Palace.” The monarch still has an exemption from inheritance tax, without which Balmoral and Sandringham could not still remain in their (private) hands.

Warning signs about Diana: skipping lunch

The Queen first realised there was something wrong with Diana on holiday at Balmoral in Scotland soon after the wedding: “So there we’d all be waiting in the hall,” a guest tells Lacey, “making polite conversation—and no Diana. A footman would come back looking embarrassed, ‘Sorry ma’am, the Princess of Wales will not be joining the party for lunch.’ Elizabeth would go very silent. Friends saw the danger signs—the pursed lips, the extra quick blink of the eye. Staying in your room at lunchtime was something you only did if you were ill or rather odd.”

Camilla had crafty strategy to keep seeing Charles

When Diana moved into Clarence House, she found a letter on her bed from Camilla congratulating her on the engagement and suggesting lunch. During the lunch, Camilla asked Diana whether she planned to hunt with Charles. “Puzzled at the time, Diana later realised Camilla was working out how she could go on meeting Charles after the marriage.”

Queen and Blair’s pact never to see ‘The Queen’

It was Tony Blair’s spinner-in-chief Alastair Campbell who came up with the famous phrase the queen used when she addressed the nation after Diana’s death, “What I say to you now as your queen, and as a grandmother, I say to you from my heart.” After the movie The Queen came out, which featured a remarkably accurate cinematic version of the first meeting between Tony Blair and the Queen, the following conversation took place. QE2: “I understand there’s a film out. I shan’t be seeing it.” TB: “I shan’t be either.” Tony Blair says he still hasn’t.

Family precedence rearranged after Charles-Camilla wedding

After Camilla’s marriage to Charles, “a significant tweaking was made to the family order of precedence. Normally the wife of the Prince of Wales is the second lady in the land, but for family occasions, it was announced, Camilla would now be ranked fourth.”

Philip has a pet name for the queen

Prince Philip calls his wife “cabbage.”

The queen knows her Spice Girls

During a recent game of “Guess Who?” the queen wrote the name “Geri Halliwell” on a label to be attached to another player’s forehead. When Andrew remonstrated, the queen replied, “Well, Geri Halliwell’s a famous person, isn’t she?”