Regal Secrets

‘Not in Front of the Corgis’: Juiciest Bits From Royal Exposé

Not in Front of the Corgis, from monarchy chronicler Brian Hoey, is out in June and provides a tantalizing peek inside palace life. Tom Sykes gets his hands on a U.K. copy and offers the best tidbits, from Prince Charles’s shoelace-ironers (and massive staff) to a royal murder.

Johnny Green / Press Association

The Corgis Access All Areas

Brian Hoey writes that he was once in Buckingham Palace when he passed two young footmen whispering together in a corridor. “I jokingly asked them if they were conspiring, to which they replied, ‘Please Sir, not in front of the Corgis.’”

The footmen meant that when they saw the corgis—the breed of dog beloved by the queen—they knew the monarch would not be far behind.

“Because the dogs hold such an important place in Her Majesty’s affections, the staff are careful not to offend them in any way,’ writes Hoey. “They dare not utter a remark in Royal hearing criticizing the animals. The Queen’s Corgis are allowed unrestricted access to any part of any Royal residence; nowhere is off-limits.” The royal chef prepares their food and they are never fed canned food, Hoey writes. But they are not universally popular: “The Palace footmen loathe the animals, as they are yappy and snappy. They also are not fully house-trained so a supply of soda water and blotting paper is kept at hand just in case of any ‘little accidents.’”

The Queen Mum Never Let Anyone Touch Her Soft Centers

The late James [later Lord] Callaghan, when he was prime minister, was a frequent guest of the queen mother at Clarence House, and on one occasion, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived, writes Hoey. “She asked him if he would like one. When he said yes, she then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, ‘Have that one,’ which he thought a little unusual. During the time he was eating his one chocolate, she ate three more and then invited him to have another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have. As Callaghan left he spoke to The Queen’s Page and asked why he was offered only those particular chocolates. The Page let him in on the secret: ‘Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.’”

Prince Charles Is a Clotheshorse Who Gets His Shoelaces Ironed

Prince Charles employs 133 staff to look after him and Camilla, more than 60 of them domestics: chefs, cooks, footmen, housemaids, gardeners, chauffeurs, cleaners, and his three personal valets—gentleman’s gentlemen—whose sole responsibility is the care of their royal master’s extensive wardrobe and choosing what he is to wear on any particular day. A serving soldier polishes the prince’s boots and shoes every day—he has 50 handmade pairs each costing over £800 by Lobb of St James’s—and a housemaid washes his underwear as soon as it is discarded. Nothing Charles or Camilla wears is ever allowed near a washing machine. Particular attention is paid to handkerchiefs, which are monogrammed and again all hand-washed, as it was found that when they were sent to a laundry, some would go missing—as souvenirs. HRH’s suits, of which he has 60, cost more than £3,000 each, and his shirts, all handmade, cost £350 a time (he has more than 200), while his collar stiffeners are solid gold or silver. Charles’s valets also iron the laces of his shoes whenever they are taken off.

A Royal Servant Was Murdered in 1873

During a state visit in 1873, a servant who was supposed to be guarding the Shah of Persia’s bedroom in the Belgian Suite throughout the night was discovered asleep on duty. His master ordered him to be beaten. The bodyguards took the order so literally that the servant died of his injuries. Queen Victoria was informed that it was a natural death and, to save unnecessary paperwork and any potential embarrassment, his body was (allegedly) buried secretly in the dead of night, in a far corner of the palace gardens near Hyde Park Corner, where, it is claimed, no flowers have blossomed since.

The Royal Household Staff Knew Obamas’ Preferred Toilet Paper

When President Obama arrived for a state visit in May 2011 with his wife, Michelle, he was astounded at the attention to detail that accompanied their two-day stay. The palace officials had even found out what sort of toilet paper the Obamas preferred in their bathroom (thickness, consistency, and color), their favorite flowers, and whether they liked sheets and blankets (wool or cotton) or duvets on their beds.

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The Queen and Her Husband Sleep in Separate Beds

One of the reasons the queen and her husband bed down in separate rooms is that Philip sleeps with his windows wide open whatever the weather and temperature. He has never used a hot-water bottle in his life. Above Prince Philip’s bedroom is a fully equipped barber shop where his hairdresser trims the royal locks once a week and provides a pedicure when needed.

The Royals Hide in a Closet at Parties

In one corner of Buckingham Palace’s White Drawing Room is a large full-size mirror, and when a function is being held, a footman is stationed alongside. At a signal he presses a button and the mirror swings open to reveal the royal family, who have been waiting in the Royal Closet, a small drawing room hidden behind the mirror, where they have their own pre-function drinks: gin and Dubonnet for the queen, whiskey and soda for Prince Philip, Coke or orange juice for Princess Anne.

The Queen Mother’s Unlikely BFF

William Tallon, page of the backstairs for the late queen mother, and his lifelong friend Reg Wilcock, page of the presence, were openly gay. The queen mother, like most of the royal family, was relaxed about their relationship. On one occasion, her majesty was waiting for her usual gin and Dubonnet, when she heard sounds of a loud argument coming from the page’s pantry. Finally losing her patience she shouted, “When you two old queens have quite finished, this old Queen would like her cocktail.”

After Tallon’s death, a handwritten note from the queen mother asking him to pack two bottles of Dubonnet and gin for a picnic fetched £16,000.

Prince Edward Is Most Pompous Royal

There has always been an unofficial popularity “league table” within the royal household of whom the servants prefer working for. Top is Prince Philip. Prince Edward is considered by the household to be the most pompous member of the royal family, insisting on absolute formality at all times. He once was said to have reprimanded a butler because the man was not outside the house when he arrived and Edward had to open the car door himself. His chauffeur is instructed to face forward at all times, even when the car is stopped.

The Queen Pays Peanuts

Footmen and housemaids start on a basic salary of £13,634 a year, which can rise after five years by £2,000 a year. On promotion to senior footman, a salary of £15,634 is paid. A butler starts on an annual salary of £15,000 plus accommodation, and for a liveried helper in the Royal Mews, who is required to have had some experience with horses and who will be seen riding behind the queen on one of the state carriages at official ceremonial occasions, the starting salary is £17,169, with livery provided. Casual workers get £7.75. The queen’s royal chef is the highest-paid member of the domestic household, with an annual salary of £45,000.

It is still possible to obtain employment simply by turning up at the side door of Buckingham Palace, alongside the queen’s gallery, and asking for a job. You won’t be turned away. Everyone is seen.

New footmen are given a set of “guidelines,” which include “no beard,” as her majesty does not care for facial hair. New hires are also warned not to wear perfume or aftershave that is too pungent. Jewelry is restricted to a watch. Tattoos are frowned upon.

Potatoes Are Measured at Dinner

At Buckingham Palace banquets, potatoes and sprouts are measured before they are served to make sure they are of similar dimensions and won’t spoil the appearance of the dinner plate.

The Queen Doesn’t Write Checks

The queen banks with London bank Coutts and Co. but no longer writes personal checks because people had a habit of not cashing them, preferring to keep them as mementoes, which caused chaos in the royal accounts. The queen mother was said to have died with an overdraft at Coutts of more than £2 million; it was settled by her daughter.

Prince Charles Heats His Biscuits

The Prince of Wales is particular about everything. He enjoys cheese and biscuits to end a meal, with both coming from his Duchy of Cornwall estate. He likes his biscuits to be served at a special temperature, and the staff keep a warming pan just to maintain them at the perfect level.