The Queen Mother Was Actually Pretty Cool

On October 18, 2014 by Tim Newman

Queen Mother - Young

Recently I was called upon to do a short presentation about the Queen Mother; I won’t bore you with the details but it turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had thought it might be. I’m not a Royalist by any stretch, but I’m not anti-royal either, I’m just ambivalent towards them really. They cost us some cash and they make some back via tourism, it all seems fairly “whatever” to me. There are bigger problems in the UK to concern ourselves with, like the worrying rise of UKIP for instance, or right-wing European politics in general.

I regard the royal family in the same way as I do morris dancing, i.e. they are of historical interest and worth keeping alive, but I probably won’t get involved in either.

Queen Mother - Patron of Midwives Institute

The Queen Mother was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1900, daughter of Claude and Lord Glamis. She had 9 siblings and butt loads of cash. So here’s a few snapshots of the Queen Mum’s life, I just picked the interesting bits obviously…

She was the last Empress of India for starters.

Queen Mother - Visit To Sydney

Elizabeth was home schooled until the age of 8 when she astonished her teachers by precociously beginning an essay with two Greek words from Xenophon’s Anabasis.

On the Queen Mother’s 14th birthday Britain declared war on Germany. She lost her brother Fergus in the war and another was captured as a POW and remained in captivity for the remainder of the conflict. The Glamis home was opened and became a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. Elizabeth was hands on and helped running the home and would often spend evenings around the piano having a good old-fashioned sing-song with the troops. One grateful soldier whom she had treated wrote in her autograph book that she should be…

Hung, drawn, & quartered … Hung in diamonds, drawn in a coach and four, and quartered in the best house in the land.

The Queen Mother initially turned down the marriage proposal of Prince Albert, Duke of York (who became King George VI) because she was…

…afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to.

Queen Mother and King Geoge 2

It took poor Albert three attempts before she eventually capitulated. Because Elizabeth was not a member of a royal household the marriage was seen as a sign that the royal family was modernising. On their honeymoon in Scotland the eventual Queen Mother caught “unromantic” whooping cough.

Queen Mother - Smiling

On a royal visit to Fiji in 1927 Elizabeth charmed the locals royally. In one incident she was shaking hands with a long line of locals when a stray dog wandered in, so she shook his paw too.

During World War II the Queen Mother refused to leave London or send her children to Canada. Even during the Blitz she remained put…

The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave the King. And the King will never leave.

Elizabeth visited schools and factories around the UK, in areas like the East End and the Docks which had been targeted by the Luftwaffe. Her initial visits were met with some hostility, onlookers even threw projectiles at her. The anger seemed to be predominantly due to her fancy clothes and general air of wealth. People weren’t keen. When Buckingham palace itself was bombed she said…

I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face

Elizabeth received revolver training as people became concerned that the palace might be raided. Her popularity grew as the war went on and Hitler described her as …

…the most dangerous woman in Europe

During a royal tour of South Africa in 1947, Elizabeth’s impeccable and calm public behaviour was broken, exceptionally, when she rose from the royal car to wallop an admirer with her umbrella. She had mistaken his enthusiasm for hostility.

Queen Mother and King Geoge

The Queen Mum was, famously, bang into horse racing and owned the winners of roughly 500 races. She had racing commentaries piped directly into her London residence, Clarence House, so that she could keep abreast of the action.

She was a tough old boot and had to bear all manner of medical beefs throughout her life. She had an appendectomy in 1964, in 1966 she had a tumour removed from her colon and in 1982 she had to be rushed to hospital after a fish bone got lodged in her throat. The Queen Mother was a keen angler and is reported to have joked…

The salmon have got their own back.

In 1986 and 1993 she had similar incidents with fish bones. In 1984 she had a lump removed from her breast and in 1986 an obstruction removed from her bowel. In 1995 she had cataracts removed and her right hip replaced. In 1998 she had her other hip replaced when it was broken in a fall at the stables. In 2000 she broke her collarbone in another fall and the following year needed a blood transfusion for anaemia which she contracted from mild heat exhaustion. She fractured her pelvis in December 2001 but refused to stay seated the following February for the national anthem.

Queen Mother - Waving

In 1975 the Queen Mother visited Iran, the Iranian top brass were bemused by her habit of speaking to everyone regardless of their importance. She said that she hoped the Shah’s entourage would learn from the visit to pay more attention to ordinary people.

Peter Ustinov describes her actions during a student demonstration at the University of Dundee in 1968…

As we arrived in a solemn procession the students pelted us with toilet rolls. They kept hold of one end, like streamers at a ball, and threw the other end. The Queen Mother stopped and picked these up as though somebody had misplaced them. [Returning them to the students she said,] ‘Was this yours? Oh, could you take it?’ And it was her sang-froid and her absolute refusal to be shocked by this, which immediately silenced all the students. She knows instinctively what to do on those occasions. She doesn’t rise to being heckled at all; she just pretends it must be an oversight on the part of the people doing it.

The Queen Mother was also noted for her sense of humour. On hearing of Edwina Mountbatten’s funeral at sea she said…

Dear Edwina, she always liked to make a splash.

Accompanied by Sir Noël Coward at a gala, she mounted a staircase lined with Guards. Noticing Coward’s eyes flicker momentarily across the soldiers, she murmured to him…

I wouldn’t if I were you, Noël; they count them before they put them out.

In the 1970’s a Conservative Minister told the Queen Mother she shouldn’t employ homosexuals; She replied that without employing homosexuals…

…we’d have to go self-service.

On receipt of 20 bottles of champagne as a gift, the Queen mother quipped that even if the family wasn’t home…

I’ll polish it off myself.

She was somewhat of a booze hound by all accounts. Her alcohol schedule included a gin and Dubonnet at noon, red wine with lunch, a port and martini at 6 pm and two glasses of champagne at dinner. Legend.

Elizabeth died in 2002, aged 101, but still managed to show her true colours from beyond the grave when her private record collection was unearthed at her remote Scottish holiday home. The eclectic mix of around 100 records included ska (which she was introduced to in the 60’s on a Caribbean visit), folk, Scottish reels and the musicals Oklahoma! and The King and I.

Queen Mother - Record Collection

Also included in the collection were a calypso band from Trinidad and artists such as the obscure Canadian yodeler Montana Slim, Tony Hancock, Paul Simon, The Goons and Noël Coward.

Queen Mother - Dancing With Backstairs Billy Tallon at the Balmoral estate

So, the Queen Mother seems like she was a friendly, humorous old boozer. I think we would have got on a treat.

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